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Unison urges members to back strike after Forbes refuses to act in pay dispute

Some 25,000 Unison members in schools, nurseries, and waste and recycling centres, will on Friday be asked to back the industrial action (PA)
Some 25,000 Unison members in schools, nurseries, and waste and recycling centres, will on Friday be asked to back the industrial action (PA)

Public sector workers are being urged by a union to back a strike in a move which could see schools forced to close after Scotland’s finance secretary refused to help resolve their pay dispute.

Some 25,000 Unison members in schools, nurseries, and waste and recycling centres, will on Friday be asked to back the industrial action in a last-ditched attempt by the union to increase a 2% pay rise offer.

Johanna Baxter, Unison’s head of local government in Scotland, said the proposed deal amounted to a real-terms pay cut and came “on the back of the Scottish Government announcing cuts to public services that Margaret Thatcher would be proud of”.

Coronavirus – Thu Nov 5, 2020
Unison members outside the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh (Jane Barlow/PA)

The union said it had urged First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Finance Secretary Kate Forbes to meet them to discuss funding for local authorities to improve the pay offer, but their request was turned down.

Ms Baxter said: “The fact they will not sit down with Cosla and the trade unions to try and find a solution is a kick in the teeth to all local government workers.

“They have forgotten already who was educating our children, cleaning our communities, caring for our vulnerable and burying our dead throughout the pandemic. Local government workers keep society running.”

Unison wrote to the Scottish Government on June 1 but on Thursday Ms Forbes told it, Unite and GMB that while her government worked “hard to maintain good relations” it “would not be appropriate to interfere in these negotiations, given their devolved nature” and was down to the union to negotiate with Cosla.

“As such, I have respectfully declined the tripartite meeting being proposed by Cosla. The Scottish Government has never had a seat in the local government pay negotiations,” Ms Forbes told them.

The ballot will take seven weeks, the union said, and will close on July 26.

Unison said if the ballot was successful workers intended to shut schools across Scotland when children returned after the summer holidays.

A Cosla spokesman said: “Cosla values the essential roles that all local government workers carry out on a daily basis.

“We remain in active discussions with our Trade Union partners.”

And a Scottish Government spokesman said it was “not involved in local government pay negotiations”.

“Pay settlements for council workers – excluding teachers – are a matter for Cosla and are determined through negotiations at the Scottish Joint Committee (SJC),” the spokesman said.

“As it is not a member of the SJC, the Scottish Government cannot intervene in pay negotiations, which are for the trade unions to negotiate with Cosla.

“Council staff play a crucial role in our communities as we rebuild the economy following the pandemic. We would encourage the parties to maintain dialogue and stay at the table to reach agreement.”

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