Scottish strike wave during COP26 summit

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Scottish GMB members in the public sector striking over pay

Council workers in more than half of Scotland’s local authorities are striking during next month’s COP26 climate summit as part of a rapidly escalating fight over public sector pay.

Railway workers employed by ScotRail have also voted to reject the privateer’s miserly pay offer and are also striking during COP26.

Trade unions representing tens of thousands of council staff have now notified the local government body COSLA (Council of Scottish Local Authorities) that they will take industrial action over the period 8 to 12 November.

The strike comes during the period of the COP26 climate change summit in Glasgow, with the area one of those that will be hit strongest by the action.

Refuse and recycling workers will be out on strike, along with school cleaners, janitors and catering staff.

Johanna Baxter, head of local government for Unison in Scotland, said: ‘It is the combined failure of both COSLA and the Scottish government to reward these key workers that has led to the situation where we have now been forced to issue notice of targeted strike action.’

The unions are warning they could escalate their action if councillors fail to increase their pay offer.

Baxter warned: ‘Our members are at breaking point and are worth more than what is on offer – it is deeply regrettable that they should have to withdraw their labour for the employer to recognise their worth.

‘Over 55% of local government workers earn below £25,000 per year, and the vast majority have received no reward at all for their efforts during the Covid pandemic – the current offer does not even bring the lowest paid local government workers up to £10 per hour.’

Unite industrial officer Wendy Dunsmore said members will be taking ‘targeted strike action due to the abject failure by COSLA and the Scottish government to pay workers a fair and decent wage’.

She accused the politicians, saying: ‘Let’s be clear that this situation has arisen because COSLA and the Scottish government are forcing local government workers into taking industrial action due to their derisory pay offer.

‘Both have a duty to get back round the negotiating table with a new offer or industrial unrest is imminent.’

GMB union senior organiser Drew Duffy added: ‘Scottish politicians have failed to value local government workers throughout this pandemic and so many of these workers are low-paid key workers.

‘Thousands of these low-paid workers will be telling their employer that they will be going on strike across schools and waste to fight for a decent pay rise.

‘Scottish council leaders and Scottish ministers have let these workers down by failing to value the work they do, so these workers will now be forced to close schools and leave household waste uncollected to force these leaders to pay them what they deserve.

‘It’s been over 18 months since any of these key workers had a pay rise and that is a disgrace given the work they have done over the last 18 months.’

Councils are offering local government workers earning below £25,000 a year an £850 increase in wages, with smaller rises for those earning more.

This would see staff earning between £25,000 and £40,000 get a 2% rise and those on £40,000 to £80,000 getting 1%, while those earning more than that would get an extra £800 a year.

However the unions insist all workers should get a rise of either 6% or £2,000, whichever is greater.

A COSLA spokesman responded: ‘We appreciate everything that local government workers have been doing, and continue to do, to support people and communities during the pandemic and as we begin to recover.

‘We continue with ongoing constructive negotiations.”

The local government unions on Tuesday issued notices of industrial action to local authorities across Scotland.

The Joint Trade Unions have between them mandates to take action in half of Scotland’s local authority areas.

On Tuesday they notified COSLA that they have served notices to those authorities, and that they will be calling out members employed in school cleaning, school catering, school janitorial, waste, recycling and fleet maintenance services on 8, 9, 10, 11 and 12 November.

It is understood that this could be the start of an escalating period of action if the employers do not change their position.

The Joint Trade Unions have also written to the Cabinet Secretaries for Finance, Local Government and Education respectively calling on them to intervene saying that it is not credible for the Scottish government to wash their hands of local government workers by arguing technicalities of the bargaining machinery.

It is now more than 10 months since the Joint Trade Unions submitted their pay claim, on behalf of the 200,000 local government workers covered by the Scottish Joint Council negotiating machinery, and 19 months into a global pandemic which has seen them working flat out on the frontline with no reward.

Wendy Dunsmore, Unite industrial officer, said: ‘Unite’s members across eleven local authorities will be taking targeted strike action due to the abject failure by COSLA and the Scottish government to pay workers a fair and decent wage.

‘The incredible professionalism and sacrifice by local government workers has not been recognised during the Covid-19 pandemic, and Unite’s members will no longer tolerate being treated as the poor relation in our public services.

‘School cleaners, caterers and janitors alongside fleet maintenance, waste and refuse workers are saying enough is enough.

‘Let’s be clear that this situation has arisen because COSLA and the Scottish government are forcing local government workers into taking industrial action due to their derisory pay offer.

‘Both have a duty to get back round the negotiating table with a new offer or industrial unrest is imminent.’

Meanwhile, more strike action during COP26 goes ahead as the RMT AGM on Monday rejected the latest ‘pitiful’ pay offer from Scotrail.

Delegates at the RMT’s AGM in Leeds voted to reject a ‘revised pay offer’ from ScotRail and to go ahead with strike action alongside Caledonian Sleeper members throughout COP26 in a fight for pay justice for Scotland’s rail workers.

Representatives from Scotrail slammed the proposed ‘new deal’, which has been driven by Nicola Sturgeon, the SNP and Transport Scotland, as poor, loaded with productivity strings and wholly unacceptable to the members who voted overwhelmingly for strike action to secure a fair pay deal.

General Secretary Mick Lynch said: ‘RMT is a democratic organisation and following a string of impassioned speeches by ScotRail delegates our AGM has voted to reject this offer, to support our Scottish members and to press ahead with the action throughout COP26.

‘We have been given a wholly arbitrary deadline of 5pm on Wednesday to accept this deal or the whole pay offer will be pulled.

‘You cannot conduct serious negotiations with that sort of gun pointed at your head.

‘Our message to Nicola Sturgeon, Transport Scotland, Abellio and Serco is that there is still time to resolve the pay disputes but it requires some serious movement, the lifting of bogus deadlines and genuine talks.

‘The union is available to get those talks on anytime, anyplace, anywhere.’

‘Decimated’ is the word used by ScotRail officials when describing service levels if the planned industrial action goes ahead.

RMT members in ScotRail are mainly conductors and ticket examiners and, unlike in other countries, without them the majority of train services in Scotland do not operate.

This would include the flagship express route between Edinburgh and Glasgow as well as ScotRail’s InterCity services.

Contingency planning for the strike is under way, but it is likely the level of service would not even match the limited offering there has been on Sundays since March, where separate strike action has been taking place.

RMT regional organiser in Scotland Mick Hogg said the union had been ‘stonewalled’ for months.

He said while there had been movement over a separate issue of rest day working, there had been no progress on pay and proposed efficiency savings.

‘What that means is there are going to be booking office closures, job losses and station closures – and a denial for the most vulnerable people in society to get access to Scotland’s trains,’ he said.

COP 26 runs from Sunday 31 October to Friday 12 November, with 120 world leaders and more than 30,000 visitors are expected in Glasgow.

The RMT is planning strike action from 1 November, for the duration of the summit.