UNIONS have warned that they have a mandate to disrupt the operation of over 1200 schools across Scotland after thousands of local government workers voted for strike action in a pay dispute.

The warning has been made to the employers, the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) on the eve of discussions that were thought to be taking place today (Friday).

The unions had warned COSLA that the only way to avoid strikes is for council leaders, at their meeting on Friday to put forward a substantially improved pay offer.

But a COSLA leaders meeting unions hoped would happen on Friday over the dispute is not taking place.

Unions had hoped that the discussions would help try to end the dispute over a 2% pay offer to local government workers.

COSLA has been warned by the unions Unison, GMB and Unite that it has a mandate to disrupt schools in 16 of Scotland 32 local authorities. They said they had a further sanction to disrupt waste and recycling services across 25 local authorities.

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. But COSLA, which is appealing for more money from the Scottish Government, says there has never been a leaders' meeting scheduled for the end of this month as they were in summer recess.

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"We will, of course, bring our leaders together once we have met with the Scottish Government as leaders have been requesting," said a COSLA spokesman.

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.

The three unions raised concerns with COSLA that they had not convened a meeting of the negotiating committee since March 4 and said the newly elected COSLA resources spokesman had made "no effort" to engage with the trade unions "on this pressing matter, or any other, since taking up post".

"Our negotiators remain willing to make themselves available at any time to help facilitate a speedy resolution to this matter," the unions said.

"Viewed across all occupational groups and trade unions there would be few if any councils that would avoid some level of disruption," the said.

"The only way to avoid this now is for council leaders, at their meeting on Friday to put forward a substantially improved pay offer.

"You will wish to note that council workers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland have just received an offer of a £1925 flat rate uplift, which equates to a 10.5% increase for those on the lowest wages."

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Johanna Baxter, Unison's head of local government said: “This is appalling behaviour by COSLA who seem set on a course for strikes and disruption. The COSLA lead on local government has not engaged with us despite our negotiators making themselves available.

"We are legally mandated to disrupt the operation of over 1,200 schools and the waste/recycling services across 25 local authorities in Scotland. It is urgent that we try and find a route of problems on pay. Otherwise few, if any councils, will avoid some level of disruption.”

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.

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.

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.

Meghan Gallacher, depute leader of the Scottish Conservatives said: "Council workers are threatening to strike after rejecting a pay offer of 2%.

"Yet despite the huge disruption this strike might cause, the SNP Government are passing the buck and dodging responsibility – even though they have been more than happy to hollow out local government with huge funding cuts year after year.

"The SNP Government must get round the negotiating table and thrash out a deal to prevent this strike. It is after all, their systematic underfunding of local authorities that has left councils unable to increase wages for workers."