THOUSANDS of council workers have been balloted over industrial action in a dispute about pay which could cripple local services across Scotland.
Unison Scotland has called on its 70,000 members in local authorities to back the call for industrial action, including walk-outs, which would hit nurseries, bin collections and care homes, as well as virtually all other areas run by councils.
The move comes after almost 80 per cent of the union’s members rejected a pay offer from the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (Cosla), the umbrella body which represents councils.
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The pay offer would have given workers earning above £35,000 a one per cent increase and a flat-rate payment of £350 for employees earning below that threshold.
However, Unison has campaigned for a flat-rate payment of £1,000 for all employees, the continued uprating of the Scottish Local Government Living Wage, and a future pay strategy to “identify and redress the imbalance caused by previous pay awards below the rate of inflation”.
Members have just over a week to respond to the ballot, which is also being seen as the first big test of the new Trade Union Act 2016.
The act means that unless 50 per cent of eligible members take part in the ballot, Unison cannot call industrial action.
There have been localised disputes, but this is the first large-scale UK ballot run under the new legislation.
Unison said that years of pay restraint and inflation meant that local government pay is worth far less now than 10 years ago, while standards of living have been squeezed as the price of food, gas and electricity, travel and childcare continue to rise.
It estimates that a home-care worker would be paid £19,900 a year instead of £16,900; an early years’ worker would receive £24,100 instead of £20,400 and a library assistant would earn £26,400 instead of £22,400 if pay had risen with inflation during the past decade.
Mike Kirby, Unison Scotland secretary, said: “This Unison Scotland ballot affects every trade unionist. It is important that we show the UK Government that we will not be bullied by the Trade Union Act 2016.
“Local government staff have seen big cuts in pay and they have the right to decide how they negotiate with their employers.
“We urge all Unison members to return their ballot paper before the May 30 deadline.
“Our members are clear that what is on the table is derisory considering the cuts that council workers have had to endure.
“The votes of our 70,000 members could affect the future earnings of nearly four times as many workers – so it is crucial we make our voice heard.
“Unison has fought hard for fair pay and to end pay restraint and we are recommending further industrial action.”
Two other unions representing local government workers have already voted overwhelmingly to accept the pay offer, with about 82 per cent of Unite members accepting the deal, and a majority of GMB Scotland members also in favour.
A spokesman for Cosla said that talks would continue even in the face of a successful call for industrial action.
He said: “Look, the bottom line is that in the current financial climate this is both a fair and a reasonable offer that councils as employers have put on the table.
“We fully recognise that our trade union colleagues have their processes to go through. The ballot closes next week so this looks like a final push to get people to have their say. We hope to be back round the table with the Unions after the result of the ballot is known.”