SCOTS schools face being shut in a targeted local government workers strike in a dispute over pay, the Herald can reveal.

Thousands of local government services staff are preparing for a strike ballot in a dispute over pay.

The public services union Unison has confirmed an indicative ballot of council staff has already revealed an "incredible" 89.8% voted in favour of taking industrial action up to an including strike action over an "unacceptable" pay offer.

Trade unions representing 200,000 local government workers across Scotland have already written to the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) - which acts as an employers' association - to say that councils have failed to come up with an acceptable pay offer for workers whose pay has been "held down for too many years".

But union sources have revealed any future strike is likely to be targeted to areas where there will have the "highest impact", and to ensure that any strike meets strict legal thresholds over turnout - and schools are top of the agenda.

One senior union sources revealed: "It is likely we will target an occupational group, rather than a specific authority. If we decide to ballot all members in schools that would have quite an impact. It would shut them."

A potentially embarrassing strike over last year's pay claim involving thousands of binmen, fleet maintenance, school cleaning, school janitorial, and recycling was due to take place between November 8 and 12, as Glasgow was hosting COP26, the UN Climate Change Conference.

Scotland's second city welcomed over 100 leaders including US president Joe Biden for the political stage of the UN summit at a time it was already blighted by rubbish, fly-tipping and reports of rats in the streets.

But on the eve of the conference and after more than 10 months of negotiations money was found for an improved pay offer which was accepted.

The trade unions had written to the Scottish Government condemning its decision not to provide additional funding to COSLA to improve the local government pay offer.

READ MORE: Strike involving 200,000 Scots council workers including binmen quashed after pay agreement

In the latest joint letter to COSLA, unions say the employer has failed to come up with an acceptable pay offer for local government workers and they will remain available for further talks to ensure the dispute can be resolved promptly.

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Head of local government with public services union Unison Scotland, Johanna Baxter said a vote in favour of a strike would mean schools were likely to close "because there are more local government workers in schools than teachers."

Ms Baxter said the situation was "totally unacceptable" adding: "Low pay is endemic in this sector. Those workers have not had any reward for the efforts they have put in during the pandemic periods. They deserve a decent wage and deserve to be recognised and rewarded for the efforts they put in. This country would not have survived the past few years without local government but they are treated as the poor relations of the public sector.

"Those who receive the most will get the highest increase and those who get the least will the lowest increase. The focus is entirely wrong, never mind the fact that 2% when inflation is running as high as it is is unacceptable in itself. "There is not enough money going into local government to properly fund a decent pay rise for these workers for years and members have had enough."

The issue is around a proposed 2% pay rise with a 20p rise in the minimum hourly wage at £9.98 - 8p more than the real Living Wage - while inflation was running at 7%. There was concern that the rise was inequitably benefitting higher paid workers while the 50% who earn less than £25,000-a-year were losing out.

The union said that those earning over £40,000 a year - 12% of the local government workforce - would get an increase of more than £800 a year, while some will get as much as £2000 more. Meanwhile those who earn below £25,000 would get a pay increase of just about £500.

They say after years of below inflation pay awards, council workers should be given a one-year £3,000 flat rate pay rise for the next financial year, and for the minimum rate of pay to be increased to £12 per hour.

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They also want an agreement that in future all allowances are automatically uprated in line with October inflation rates.

"Industrial action was only narrowly avoided last year," said Ms Baxter. "Negotiations took almost a year and only concluded at the end of the year after we had served notice of industrial action in those authorities where we had a mandate. That was only because of extra money that was put in at the last minute by the Scottish Government."

The wage deal ensured an increase for the lowest paid workers of 5.8% for one year to help to address poverty pay. It also includes a £850 flat rate payment based on a 37-hour working week for those earning up to £25,000.

Ms Baxter added: "But they say there is no money in this year's budget to fund a pay increase. They blame the Scottish Government and the Scottish Government say that it has nothing to do with them because they don't employ local government workers, when actually they are ringfencing more and more of the finance they give to local government, for their own priorities. So our members get used as a political football between the two and it is totally unacceptable."

In a letter to COSLA she added:" Whilst COSLA and the Scottish Government will blame each other over who is responsible for this situation it is our members that suffer – they have already endured a decade of austerity, a pandemic and now face a cost of living crises like no other."

The unions say that the claim designed to protect the lowest paid workers but also start to bring staff earnings back into line with "where they should be".

The joint union pay claim says: "We appreciate this cannot be done in one year but would remind you that this is a principal that has been accepted in previous pay agreements. "

A COSLA spokesperson said: “We remain in ongoing discussions with our trade union colleagues in relation to pay.”

A Scottish Government spokeman said: "Pay settlements for council workers - excluding teachers - are a matter for COSLA and are determined through negotiations at the Scottish Joint Committee (SJC).

“We are treating councils fairly and providing a real terms increase of 6.3% to local authority budgets this year.

“This comes against a cut to the Scottish Government’s overall budget of 5.2% in real terms, due primarily to UK Government funding reductions.

"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.”