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Significantly improved offer needed to end strike, union says

Children’s education has been disrupted by strike action.

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Industrial strike

A “significantly” better offer is needed to end strike action by support staff which has closed schools across much of the country, a union chief has said, as she warned of further strikes.

Lilian Macer, Unison’s Scottish secretary, said the latest offer from employers was “too little, too late and too vague”.

School support staff in 24 council areas are walking out for three days from Tuesday after Unison rejected the offer, though GMB Scotland and Unite have suspended strikes while they consider it.

And Ms Macer warned that further strike action “will be on the cards” unless a deal is reached and called on First Minister Humza Yousaf to get involved in negotiations after he urged the union to suspend strike action on Monday evening.

She also revealed that had been the “first” Unison had heard from the First Minister.

Industrial strike
School support staff are walking out for three days (Jane Barlow/PA)

Ms Macer told the PA news agency at a picket line outside Carluke High School in South Lanarkshire: “The offer we’re looking for is significantly above what has been offered. We are seeking the Scottish Government to come round the table with Cosla, with Unison, to negotiate a fair pay settlement for local government workers in Scotland.

“It’s imperative that the First Minister move away from the cameras, move away from the press releases and come into the room and talk to Unison.

Strike action
Essential school staff including cleaners, janitors and support workers have been locked in a pay dispute (Jane Barlow/PA)

“If you are serious about discussions with Unison, pick up the phone and as Scottish secretary I’ll be there.”

The dispute is over a revised pay offer from umbrella body the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (Cosla) for a pay increase for janitors, cleaners, and support workers, who are some of the lowest paid council employees.

The new offer represents a minimum wage increase of £2,006 for those on the Scottish Government’s living wage and a minimum increase of £1,929 for workers who are earning above the living wage.

The living wage of £10.85 will rise to £11.89 under the new offer, equivalent to a 9.6% increase – but Unison has said the revised pay offer remains a “real terms pay cut” and “below the rate of inflation”.

Ms Macer confirmed the union would organise a consultative ballot on the offer and will be recommending members reject it while taking “soundings” on further industrial action.

Industrial strike
Workers on the picket line at Portobello High School in Edinburgh (Jane Barlow/PA)

She added: “Our strategy, our pay campaign, is not finished, we will continue the action as long as our members instruct us to do so.

“More strike action will be on the cards, nothing is off the table and our members will be balloted with a recommendation to reject this offer.

“No-one wants to see children’s education disrupted, Unison members don’t want to see children’s education disrupted.

“Cosla and the Scottish Government have taken this to the brink and this is where we are as a consequence of no discussion and no negotiation with Unison.”

She said the union is prepared to enter into meaningful negotiations and urged the Scottish Government and Cosla to get in touch.

Unison rejected the offer as “an increase of only 0.5% in-year” for the majority of staff.

Industrial strike
Union leaders have warned of further strike action (Jane Barlow/PA)

At Portobello High School in Edinburgh, around 30 school support staff stood on the picket lines with placards emblazoned with slogans such as “pay up for council staff”, “no pay, no play” and “we are worth more”.

Members there said they would not have accepted the offer and that some colleagues are having to take second jobs to make ends meet.

Some regions have come up with compromises to allow education to continue despite strikes.

Highland Council said 27 of its schools are expected to remain open while Glasgow City Council said high schools will be open for S4-S6 pupils only on Tuesday.

The local authority confirmed on Tuesday the same schools will be closed on Wednesday and Thursday, after high numbers of staff striking ruled out more opening.

Cosla said the “pay package not only compares well to other sectors but recognises the cost-of-living pressures on our workforce and which would mean the lowest paid would see an in-year uplift of over £2,000, or just under 10%”, calling it a “strong offer”.

Cosla resources spokeswoman Katie Hagmann told BBC Radio Scotland remaining funding had been found through “reprioritising” spending.

Scotland’s Deputy First Minister Shona Robison said pay negotiations were a matter for local government employers and unions and that the Scottish Government would “encourage” those involved to continue negotiations in the hope that a resolution could be found.

She said: “We have worked constructively in partnership with Cosla and councils to find a solution, facilitated by an additional £80 million of funding and flexibility from the Scottish Government.

“We have ensured there will be no detrimental impact on jobs or services as a result of this additional funding. Despite UK Government cuts, the Scottish Government had already provided £155 million in 2023-24 to support a meaningful pay rise for local government workers, and provided assurances over funding in 2024-25.”

She said affected local authorities will ensure that schools and learning establishments remain open as far as is practical.

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