Hundreds of school support staff gathered outside the Scottish Parliament to send a “very strong and loud message” demanding fair pay as their strike entered its second day.
Children across much of the country are facing disruption to their education with many schools closed after Unison members in 24 council areas walked out on Tuesday.
Unison Scottish secretary Lilian Macer described the latest pay offer from employers as “too little, too late and too vague” and challenged First Minister Humza Yousaf to come outside and speak to workers at the rally.
The demonstration comes after it emerged on Wednesday that money used to compensate the survivors of historic abuse and provide school-level funding will be “re-profiled” as part of the pay offer to non-teaching staff in Scotland, which is estimated to cost around £580 million.
Scotland’s Education Secretary Jenny Gilruth told the Education, Children and Young People Committee at Holyrood there will be “no detriment” to either scheme as money is moved around within Government budgets to cover the pay deal.
Unite the union and the GMB suspended strike action after the new deal was offered last week, opting to ballot members, but Unison has gone ahead with a three-day walkout from Tuesday to Thursday this week.
STUC general secretary Roz Foyer was among the speakers at the rally on Wednesday.
She said: “We know that you will send a very, very strong and loud message to the Scottish Government that enough is enough.
“Workers deserve better. You deserve a decent living wage for each and every worker.”
She added: “When workers come together, workers can make the difference. That is the power that you have so stand strong and stand together.”
Workers waved flags and banners with messages such as “From frontline to breadline”, “Support the support” and “Support us, we support your children”. They also chanted: “What do we want? Fair pay. When do we want it? Now.”
Johanna Baxter, Unison Scotland head of local government, was also among the speakers and said that those on strike were fighting for every local government worker across the country.
She said: “Unison will be the union that continues the fight for £15 an hour.”
Ms Macer said that members are demonstrating to make sure that they get a decent pay rise and challenged Mr Yousaf to get involved in negotiations.
She told the PA news agency: “Yesterday we challenged Humza Yousaf to come from behind his desk and meet with Unison to talk about fair pay for local government workers.
“Not a sound, nothing, the silence is deafening.
“Humza Yousaf we challenge you today come out and speak to local government workers, come out and speak to school workers and show that you are the First Minister of the whole of Scotland.
“Public sector workers deserve their voice to be heard and we’re challenging you Humza Yousaf to come out and hear that voice.”
Unison will also ballot its members on the deal offered by councils umbrella body Cosla, but has recommended the offer is rejected.
To raise the funds required for the deal, the Scottish Government said it will reallocate £30 million of Pupil Equity Fund (Pef) cash next year so it aligns with the school year, as opposed to the financial year.
Ms Gilruth, who is not involved in the negotiations on the pay deal, said: “Thirty million pounds of resource is going to be re-profiled from 2024-25 from the Local Government Attainment Grant – formerly Pef – that will simply align the funding with the academic year and planned spending by schools as opposed to the financial year.”
Many parents around the country are concerned that their children’s education has been disrupted by strike action.
However, one father living in Gourock said he supports the action.
Matt Bernico, 35, told the PA news agency he was “feeling good” about the strike as a parent of his son Lewis, eight, who is attending Gourock Primary School.
Defending the requested pay rise, the graphic designer said: “You could spend more than that going to Burger King for lunch so I think asking for a pay rise makes a lot of sense to me.”
“When you think about school workers, you think about teachers but you don’t necessarily think about the janitorial staff.
“You don’t think about the cafeteria workers and aides and so on, so I think it’s good that they’re going to get recognition.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson 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, including on Pupil Equity Funding levels or operation of the redress scheme, 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.
“Scottish Government and Cosla will continue to work together to minimise disruption for all affected areas.
“Affected local authorities will ensure that schools and learning establishments remain open as far as is practical, taking into consideration staffing levels and individual establishment risk assessments.”
Cosla was contacted for comment.