Workers at 15 Scottish councils to strike over pay

The union Unite has announced that its members working in waste services across 15 Scottish councils are to strike from 24-31 August in response to the “pitiful” offer of a 2% pay increase.

There are fears waste could pile up in cities such as Glasgow while the strikes take place (picture: Shutterstock)

Unite says the action, which will hit all waste services at the councils, forms “the next phase of a coordinated campaign” to persuade the Scottish Government and COSLA to make a “decent” pay offer.

The 15 councils involved are Aberdeen City, Angus, Clackmannanshire, Dundee, East Ayrshire, East Lothian, East Renfrewshire, Falkirk, Glasgow, Highland, Inverclyde, South Ayrshire, South Lanarkshire and West Lothian. Unite estimates 1,500 of its members will take part.

Sharon Graham, Unite’s general secretary, said: “Unite’s members play a crucial role in keeping Scotland’s bins emptied and streets clean and they have had enough of the procrastination between COSLA and the Scottish Government that has led us to where we are now.

“Our members across all councils will receive the union’s complete support until this dispute is resolved and a fair pay offer secured.”

COSLA is the cross-party organisation representing Scotland’s 32 councils.

Budget

Unite claims that more than half of Scotland’s 250,000 council workers earn less than £25,000 a year for a 37-hour week.

The Scottish Fiscal Commission says the Scottish Government’s budget for 2022/23 is “2.6% lower than this year’s in cash terms and 5.2% lower after accounting for inflation”. The Scottish Government says this is because of reduced Covid-19 funding and falling capital funding from the UK Government.

Funding

After news of Unite’s strike broke, Scotland’s deputy first minister, John Swinney, told letsrecycle.com the Scottish Government was contributing a further £140 million of recurring funding to support COSLA to make a revised pay offer to the local government workforce.

John Swinney is Scotland’s deputy first minister (picture: Scottish Government)

This follows “constructive discussions with COSLA leaders and notwithstanding the financial impact on our fully committed budget.”

“Without the ability to borrow or change tax policy, this will have a significant and ongoing impact upon our fixed budget that ministers are taking steps to address,” Mr Swinney said.

“Finding a solution must be a collaborative endeavour and local authorities now need to do the same.

“This additional funding demonstrates our commitment to local government and their staff and will allow local authorities to make a significantly enhanced pay offer.”

Mr Swinney wrote to the UK government on 1 August to call for further funding for public sector pay deals.

Special meeting

Following a special virtual meeting of council leaders on Friday (12 August), COSLA’s resources spokesperson, Cllr Katie Hagmann, said: “Following the confirmation that the additional monies provided by Scottish Government will be recurring, leaders have now mandated me today to move forward with our trade union partners on the basis of an offer that raises the Scottish local government living wage to £10.50.

“Leaders have reaffirmed their aspiration to make an offer greater than the initial 2% but note the risk that public services will not recover, jobs will be affected and communities will see services reduced as local government budgets are unable to sustain the long term pressures they have been under.

“Leaders continue to call on Scottish Government to provide funding and flexibilities to enable an offer beyond the monies provided to date.

“As such we will be seeking to make an improved offer via the appropriate negotiating mechanisms as soon as possible.”

‘Sub-standard settlements’

However, Unite claims there has been “no indication” as to how the additional £140 million funding for councils announced by Mr Swinney will be used.

Unite claims refuse workers working for Scottish councils council workers have “had enough of sub-standard settlements” (picture: Shutterstock)

News of the strike follows a previous announcement from the union that members in Edinburgh would take part in a ‘first phase’ of action from 18-30 August to coincide with the Scottish capital’s arts festival.

Unite regional officer Wendy Dunsmore said council workers had “had enough of sub-standard settlements” and deserved “a decent wage to sustain their families” given the predictions about inflation and soaring food and energy prices.

“The failure of both COSLA and the Scottish Government to work to bring an improved offer to the table that could have halted this action means any blame for where we are now should be directed back to them,” she added.

“Unite will not tolerate that local government workers are the consistent poor relations and members have now had enough.”

Strikes

There has been a huge increase in strike action across the waste sector in recent times, which the GMB union told letsrecycle.com stemmed from members “seeking to redress the underpayment they have suffered for many years” (see letsrecycle.com story).

The drivers’ strike in Coventry began in January and ended in July

In one particularly high-profile case in England, Unite celebrated “victory” on 29 July after it agreed a 12.9% pay increase for RCV drivers at Coventry city council, bringing to an end action which began in January. Mrs Graham said the deal represented “a fair and just pay award”.

However, Coventry said in a statement that it felt “mixed emotions” given the time it took to agree the deal. The council claims its frustration stems from “the fact that core elements of the deal have been on the table before the drivers were even balloted on strike action last year.”

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