Nicola Sturgeon says all options for more funding amid strikes ‘exhausted’

·5-min read

Scotland’s First Minister has said all options in making more funding available amid ongoing strikes have been “exhausted”.

Nicola Sturgeon issued the statement as it emerged that industrial action in cleansing and education will go ahead next week after unions rejected the latest “unacceptable” offer from local authorities.

After negotiations over the weekend, Unite’s local government committee rejected outright an offer from council umbrella body Cosla, while GMB Scotland also turned the deal down.

Unison said it would hold a consultative ballot of members this week on the offer, and would recommend they reject it.

According to the Scottish Government, the deal included a payment of at least £1,925 for council staff, with those earning £20,000 receiving £2,000.

But Unite said the payment could be as low as £989 for some employees, with 85% receiving between £1,925 and £2,000, and any payment would not be recurring.

Ms Sturgeon said she hoped trade union members would accept the latest offer, but added that she understood “the pressures workers face”.

The First Minister said on Twitter: “The new offer on the table from Cosla is backed by a further £200 million of Scottish Government funding over this and next year.

“This ensures that the previous 5% offer is topped up to £1,925 for all those earning below £39,000. For those earning £20,000 it delivers £2,000, equivalent to 10%.

“I understand the pressures workers face which is why we have exhausted all options in last few days to make more funding available to support those on lowest incomes.

“If we could go further we would, but (the) Scottish Government budget is finite. I hope trade union members accept the offer.”

GMB Scotland senior organiser Keir Greenaway said the unions pushed for a flat rate increase, rather than one based on a percentage of current wage, claiming that Cosla tabled a deal that “only feathers the nests of service directors”.

Mr Greenaway added that if Cosla does not return to talks “as soon as possible”, then the union’s local government committee will outline plans to “fully consult GMB members”.

But Cosla resources spokeswoman Katie Hagmann said this offer was “as good as it gets”.

As a result of the rejection, strike action across the country in education and cleansing will go ahead next week unless a deal can be reached before then.

Action by cleansing workers in Edinburgh in recent weeks led to rubbish littering the streets of the capital during one of the busiest times of the year for tourism, the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Staff are slated to return on Tuesday.

Unite members in other authorities also walked out this weekend, and are due to return on Wednesday.

Cleansing workers strike
Overflowing bins on the streets of Edinburgh (Andrew Milligan/PA)

Wendy Dunsmore, the union’s industrial officer, said: “Unite has rejected outright the latest pay offer from Cosla.

“The structure of the offer continues to disproportionately and unfairly affect the lowest paid with the majority of those being women.

“In real terms it leaves the lowest paid workers no better off and a significant proportion of the offer does not enhance overtime, allowances or pensions.

“The offer remains unacceptable and it represents a waste of precious time.

“We understand the gravity of the situation across the country but equally our members are facing the worst cost-of-living crisis in a generation.

“Unite’s strike action remains scheduled for next week unless Cosla gets back to us with a credible offer which addresses our primary concerns.”

Mr Greenaway added: “A flat rate award is a key demand from unions to ensure more consolidated money goes into the pockets of frontline workers and not the highest paid in our councils.

“Cosla knew this but instead tabled this offer as an across-the-board percentage rise that only feathers the nests of service directors.

“This was unacceptable to our local government committee members. It’s not credible that in the grip of the biggest cost-of-living crisis in 40 years, and with inflation and energy bills soaring, a head of service gets four times the consolidated increase than a bin collector, cleaner or carer.

“That’s why we have written to Cosla again this evening urging them to return to talks as soon as possible and to negotiate a new offer based on a flat rate increase.

“If they don’t do this then when our committee reconvenes tomorrow we will outline our plans to fully consult GMB members.”

Johanna Baxter, the head of local government at Unison, welcomed the deal’s commitment to scrapping Scottish Social Services Council (SSSC) fees, the cost of living increase and the additional day’s leave, but said the overall pay increase “is simply not big enough to deliver a decent consolidated wage rise for the majority of our members”.

“Unison’s local government committee met this morning and confirmed that strike action will continue while we consult our members on this latest offer,” she added.

“Council workers are struggling to cope with the cost-of-living crisis after 10 years of austerity.

“This is another pay cut they simply cannot afford, which is why we are recommending they reject the offer and continue with the action already planned to try to secure a bigger consolidated sum.”

Ms Hagmann said in a statement: “This year’s offer is significantly better and different to previous offers and would have helped to support our council workforces across the country at this difficult time.

“That support is crucial at any time but particularly now, during the cost of living crisis the country is facing. This is why we are so disappointed with the response to it from our trade union colleagues.

“Given our commitment as employers to get to this point, we are disappointed that trade unions will not suspend planned strike action whilst they put this offer to members to allow workers to get back to doing what they do best, delivering high quality, essential services right across Scotland.

“My final point to the trade union colleagues is that we have done everything we possibly can to get to this stage and that this offer – which is still on the table – is as good as it gets.”

Deputy First Minister John Swinney said “no deal is perfect”, adding that this offer provided “significant increases for low-paid staff”.