Essential Scottish school staff to strike unless pay deal agreed, says union

Essential school staff will go on strike across Scotland in the autumn unless a pay deal can be struck, a union has warned.

Workers including cleaners, janitors and support workers represented by Unison have voted to strike in 24 out of the country’s 32 council areas.

It is the largest ever vote for strike action by school staff in Scotland, and the union said there was an “overwhelming vote in favour of strike action in every council” but a 50% turnout had to be met.

Unison balloted school staff working for every council in Scotland over the 5% pay offer from employer body Cosla, and described the response as “unprecedented”.

Workers were due a pay rise in April and have also been offered an additional increase dependent on salary from January 2024 for all local government workers.

Non-teaching school staff who are members of GMB Scotland also balloted to strike last week and have announced strike dates of September 13 and 14 across Aberdeen, Clackmannanshire, Comhairle Nan Eilean Siar, Dundee, East Dunbartonshire, Falkirk, Glasgow, Orkney, Renfrewshire and South Ayrshire.

The 24 councils where Unison strikes are threatened are: Aberdeen City, Aberdeenshire, Angus, City of Edinburgh, Clackmannanshire, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, Dumfries & Galloway, Dundee City, and East Dunbartonshire.

Also impacted were: East Renfrewshire, Fife, Glasgow City, Highland, Inverclyde, Moray, North Ayrshire, Orkney Islands, Perth & Kinross, Renfrewshire, Shetland Islands, South Ayrshire, South Lanarkshire, Stirling, and West Dunbartonshire.

Unison Scotland’s local government committee will meet next week to take the next steps to prepare for industrial action, which is likely to take place in early autumn.

The union’s secretary in Scotland, Lilian Macer, said: “This is Unison’s strongest ever strike mandate in local government, which shows the level of anger felt by staff.

“The union will do everything possible to get back around the table with Cosla to resolve this dispute.

“School staff would prefer to be in school working with children, not on picket lines and closing dozens of schools.

“But the Scottish Government and Cosla should be in no doubt about the determination of school staff and they’ll do what it takes to get an improved pay deal for all local government workers.”

Unison Scotland local government committee chair, Mark Ferguson, said: “School staff across Scottish local government have voted to strike in unprecedented numbers.

“Cosla must address the union’s calls for improved fair pay that recognises and rewards them for the vital work they do in their communities.

“Cosla leaders are meeting today and, if they fail to address the reasonable demands on the back of such a significant mandate, schools across Scotland will close and nobody wants that.

“Unison remains committed to dialogue and hopes a satisfactory resolution can be found before staff are forced to take industrial action.”

Katie Hagmann, Cosla’s resources spokesperson, said: “We had a good positive meeting of council leaders earlier today at which they once again reiterated how much they value the whole of the local government workforce.

“In relation to this year’s pay negotiations for the SJC (Scottish Joint Council) workforce, we discussed options for concluding these negotiations as soon as the outcome of current ballots are known, and to this end, there was agreement to hold a special meeting of leaders as soon as we possibly can.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Local government pay negotiations are a matter for local authorities as employers and unions.

“The Scottish Government and Cosla have committed to respect this negotiating arrangement as part of the Verity House Agreement.

“Despite UK Government cuts, the Scottish Government has provided a further £155 million to support a meaningful pay rise for local government workers, which has been taken into account in the pay offer already made by Cosla.

“The Scottish Government urges all the parties involved to work together constructively and reach an agreement which is fair for the workforce and affordable for employers.

“In the event of any industrial action, we would expect local authorities to ensure that schools and learning establishments remain open as far as practical, taking into consideration risk assessments on the health and safety of all in our schools, so that disruption to teaching and learning is avoided where possible.”