The majority of schools in Scotland are set to close next week after a union rejected council leaders' "best and final" pay offer. The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (Cosla) said its "significantly improved in-year offer" would result in an in-year increase of approximately £2,000, or nearly 10%, for Scottish local government living wage workers.
Unison, one of the three unions involved in the negotiations, has said strikes will occur as it has rejected the agreement. This means, school employees, including cleaners and janitors, will go on strike for three days from Tuesday (September 26).
According to the PA news agency, Unison has rejected the offer and will recommend to its members that they do the same. In addition to the £10 million previously allocated by council leaders for the previous agreement offered to unions on September 13, an additional £90 million was found for the latest offer.
Cosla stated that the new offer was contingent upon the unions presenting it to their members for complete consideration and suspending strikes with immediate effect while they do so.
Its resources spokesperson Katie Hagmann said: “This really is our best and final offer, we have nowhere to go after this. We have gone beyond our limits in a bid to satisfy our workforce and avert next week’s strikes.”
Unions have warned more than three-quarters of schools will close if the strike goes ahead, affecting 26 of Scotland’s 32 council areas. Unison, Unite and GMB Scotland rejected the previous “measly” pay offer from Cosla, saying it would lead to an increase of 38p per week for the lowest paid.
Cosla had said the previous offer would have provided at least a £1,929 increase in annual salary for workers by January 1, and the lowest paid would have seen a 21% rise over two years.
Ms Hagmann said on Thursday that no new money had been identified for the latest offer, and there will be “delays to programmes and projects within communities” to meet the pay demands.
She said: “Despite the extreme difficulties this presents us with, Scotland’s council leaders have listened and acted on the ask of our trade union colleagues to get us to this position today.
“We can now make a significantly improved in-year offer meaning those workers on the Scottish local government living wage will see an in-year uplift of around £2,000, or almost 10%.
“I cannot stress enough the efforts that both local and Scottish Government have gone to in relation to securing the funding to meet this task. Politicians and officers have worked tirelessly in partnership to review, re-prioritise, restructure and re-profile money, ensuring the impact on our communities is minimised.
“However, have no doubt, tough decisions have been taken and there will be delays to programmes and projects within communities to meet these pay demands.
“No new money has been identified for this offer – it is the ultimate example of ‘reduce, reuse and recycle’ in finance terms. Strikes are too damaging to our children and young people, their families and our communities across Scotland for us not to have taken this action.”
Keir Greenaway, GMB Scotland’s senior organiser in public services, said on the new offer: “Our members have absolutely no interest in last-minute deadline dramas. All they want is a fair pay offer.
“Cosla could have made such an offer months ago but instead, despite our best efforts, chose to drag the process out for no good reason.
“We will now look at the details of this latest offer. If it is a significant improvement on the last one, we will take it to our members. If it is not, the strikes will go ahead as planned.”
'Too little too late'
Unison Scotland head of local government, Johanna Baxter, said: “This revised offer is far too little, too late. Strikes will therefore proceed next week. We cannot agree to a pay offer that will result in further cuts to our members’ jobs and the services they provide.
“It has taken Cosla six months to send us a revised pay offer which, for the vast majority of staff, is an increase of only 0.5% in-year. These are not well-paid staff, they are on less than the Scottish average wage and it is simply not acceptable.
“Far from learning the lessons of last year’s dispute the situation has been worse this year, caused further delay to local government workers’ pay during a cost-of-living crisis and created uncertainty for parents.
“This is no way to conduct industrial relations.”
Chairman of Unison Scotland’s local government committee, Mark Ferguson, said: “The offer is still below the rate of inflation, meaning that local government workers are, once again, being asked to take a real-terms pay cut which they can ill afford during a cost-of-living crisis.
“Our members have been left waiting for an improved pay offer for months after their pay uplift was due, and right up until the eve of mass school closures, whilst Cosla and the Scottish Government have prevaricated over who will find the additional money needed to fund any improved offer and where the money will come from.”