NEARLY two in three Scots councils face being hit by strikes that could close hundreds of schools and nurseries if sanctioned industrial action over staff pay goes ahead.

Schools in 21 of Scotland's 32 local authorities face being impacted by closure when they return as thousands of local authority workers across three unions back strike action.

Unions have also warned that waste could go uncollected in 28 out of 32 council areas in the targeted strike ballot by the unions Unison, GMB and Unite.

Unions have said the strikes could take place as early as mid to late August after pupils return from the summer break.

They have to provide two weeks notice to employers, the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) of any action. A strike ballot of around 25,000 members of the three unions voted to reject the final 2% pay offer in cleansing, schools and early learning sections.

COSLA are currently in urgent talks with the Scottish Government for more funding to try and settle the pay dispute. Further discussion are expected to take place with unions on Friday over the dispute.

COSLA said: “COSLA Leaders are clear that they value hugely the local government workforce, which is why discussions with our trade union colleagues continue in order to reach an agreement and avoid strike action.

"As employers we have a responsibility to ensure that any pay deal offered is both sustainable and affordable and that is why we are unable to go beyond the current offer at this point. As mandated by council leaders, we are currently in discussions with Scottish Government and await their response to leaders’ request for additional funding.”

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A GMB source said the pay awards are influenced by the budgets that are set by Scottish Government.

It was felt that 2% was unfair against inflation running at 9.7% and the Scottish Government-backed pay settlement of 5% for ScotRail train drivers that may well rise to 10% with performance bonuses.

In March, the public spending watchdog warned that Scotland's councils face "significant" financial challenges amid funding cuts handed down by SNP ministers.

The Accounts Commission found local government funding reduced by 4.2 per cent in real terms between 2013/14 and 2020/21, once Covid cash was excluded.

The 21 local authority areas where at least one of the three unions received a strike sanction from the ballot are City of Glasgow, Orkney, Aberdeenshire, East Renfrewshire, North Lanarkshire, South Lanarkshire, Clackmannanshire, Stirling, Inverclyde, Aberdeen, Dundee, Renfrewshire, Comhairle Nan Eilean, Angus, City of Edinburgh, Dundee City, East Ayrshire, East Dunbartonshire, Renfrewshire and West Lothian and Perth and Kinross. Unite also got a strike sanction within Tayside Contracts - which provides catering, cleaning, roads maintenance and vehicle maintenance - which would impact schools in Perth and Kinross.

The four local authorities where there was no sanction for a strike in the waste section was Comhairle Nan Eilean, Dumfries and Galloway, Shetland and Moray.

The GMB union warned of waste piles and school closures as council staff vote to strike over what it called the "poorest pay offer anywhere in UK local government".

A GMB source said: "We have a solid collective strike. A local government strike that hasn't been seen before.

"If COSLA are not on the phone to get more funding from Scottish Government then I would be amazed."

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GMB Scotland senior organiser Keir Greenaway said: “Unless Ministers and COSLA make a significantly improved pay offer for the consultation of our members then strike action is happening across these vital services. “The 2 per cent that’s already been massively rejected is a shameful proposal, it’s worth less than a tenner a week extra for those earning £25,000 or under, and it will turn a cost-of-living crisis into a catastrophe for many workers and their families.

“Two years ago, these workers were applauded on the doorstep by political leaders, but now they are being told to suffer massive real terms pay cuts ahead of a brutal winter with forecasts of double-digit inflation and energy bills over £3,000.

“Our members are angry and scared, and the prospect of tens of thousands of council workers falling into the growing ranks of the working poor is not something GMB is prepared to leave unchallenged.”

Trade unions representing 200,000 local government workers across Scotland have already written to COSLA 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".

The Scottish Conservatives have criticised the Scottish Government for "passing the buck" to COSLA and the unions to resolve the dispute.

Miles Briggs, shadow secretary for local government said: “Everything possible must be done to prevent this damaging strike action going ahead.

“The prospect of school closures at the start of the new term is particularly concerning given the huge disruption the pandemic has already caused to our children’s education.

“All parties must get round the negotiating table to thrash out a deal – especially the SNP Government."

The Liberal Democrats have also named council budget cuts made by the SNP as the reason for the action.

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton said: "There is an simple explanation for why these strikes are being called - years of SNP/Green cuts to local authority budgets. These cuts have meant tough times for waste and recycling staff and now with the cost-of-living crisis biting they are at their wit's end.

“Any single day of a child’s education lost is nothing short of a travesty. Children's interests have been sorely neglected over several years of a devastating pandemic."

SNP MSP Jenny Gilruth said pay settlements for council workers, excluding teachers, are a “matter for Cosla”.

Ms Gilruth said: “The Scottish Government will urge and we are urging all parties to continue dialogue to seek a resolution which avoids industrial action.”

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.

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

The Scottish Government has said it has "no formal role" in the pay negotiations, but said it is working with Cosla to explore options available to find solutions.

A Scottish Government spokesperson 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.

“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.”