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Schools across north-east face closure due to worker walkout

School closed sign
Schools could be closed if strikes go ahead next month.

Schools across the north-east could remain shut after the summer break due to support staff walking out.

Council workers in the Unison union in Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire have opted to take industrial action in August over a 2% pay increase offered to them by Cosla – the body representing local authorities.

Unison said it intended to shut schools across Scotland when children return after the summer holidays next month.

Janitorial staff and school cleaners will down tools, with the dates for the strikes still to be confirmed.

It could mean parents are left to scramble to find childcare if the summer holidays are effectively extended by the walkout.

Call for clarity over school strike

Councillor Martin Greig at Marischal College, Aberdeen.  Picture by Kami Thomson.

Aberdeen City Council’s education convener Martin Greig said it was important that parents had some clarity on the row.

He said: “The issue is for Cosla to deal with. Parents and carers will wish for more information in the interests of young people.

“Hopefully updates will be given without delay.”

Meanwhile, a city council spokesman said the authority hoped the dispute can be “quickly resolved in the interests of staff, services and residents.”

Unison workers will walk out in August.  Picture by Shutterstock.

Union’s ‘regret’ over action

Kate Ramsden, who co-chairs the Unison Aberdeenshire branch, said the current offer from Cosla is meaningless.

She said: “We will be taking action if it comes to it. We’ve been offered two per cent and inflation is at nine per cent.

“Many of our members are struggling with the cost of living.  You just have to look at how much food and energy prices have gone up.

“These are the people on the frontline during Covid. They worked like everybody else but they are not getting a pay rise.

“We regret it coming to this. We hope Cosla will think about the offer because we have to have decent pay as two per cent is just meaningless. ”

An Aberdeenshire Council spokesman said they were waiting on details from unions about the number of staff taking part.

He added: “At this stage, we are not clear on the scale or locations of any impact as well the mitigations open to us.”

Government hopes for ‘resolution’

A Scottish Government spokesman said they hope a strike can be avoided and urged Cosla and the unions to find a way forward.

He said: “Ministers note and respect the results of the local government industrial action ballots. Local government workers play a crucial role in our communities and are integral to our recovery from the pandemic.

Inverurie Community Campus.  Picture by Kenny Elrick.

“Although the Scottish Government has no formal role in the national local government pay negotiations, both the government and Cosla are working to jointly explore all of the options available to find solutions.

“In the meantime, the Scottish Government urges all parties to continue dialogue and seek a resolution which avoids industrial action.”

Classes could be cancelled if strike action goes ahead in August. Pictured by Darrell Benns.

Cosla to hold talks

Cosla will meet on Friday for talks about the situation.

Unison says they “must” put forward an improved offer on the table to avoid disruption to council services across Scotland.

Members in all councils across Scotland voted to reject the pay offer of 2% and secured turnouts surpassing the statutory 50% threshold for public sector ballots.

Unison, along with Unite and GMB unions – who also represent council workers, have asked for a £3,000 increase and a £12 an hour rate as a minimum for all council workers.

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