MINISTERS have been warned that a "significantly improved" pay offer to thousands of local government workers will prevent a strike that could close schools and see bins lie unemptied.

The GMB union issued the warning ahead of talks expected this afternoon between the the Scottish Government and representatives of the employers, the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) over increased funding.

It comes after three unions, the GMB, Unite and public services union Unison say they have received a mandate for strike action in a local government pay dispute.

It would lead to some 1200 schools being shut across 16 Scots local authority areas in Scotland.  It would also lead to bins lying unemptied with votes in favour of strike action in waste and recyling areas across 25 local authorities.

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

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

The GMB has said there needs to be a "significantly improved" offer but it is felt a resolution is only possible if the Scottish Government stumps up more money for COSLA.

The cross-party local government association 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.

The unions have warned COSLA that the only way to avoid strikes is if there is a substantially improved pay offer.

The GMB which represents over 20,000 staff across Scotland’s thirty-two local authorities, including thousands of school and waste workers preparing for strikes against the pay offer, has urged ministersto take more responsibility for the ongoing pay row.

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The union has written to every MSP warning of consequences of a failure to improve the pay offer, which it says is currently the lowest anywhere in the UK public sector.

It said it will go "far beyond disruptive strike action with profound challenges for service delivery if work does not pay for hard-pressed staff".

The letter says: "Without an improved pay offer, GMB estimates that as many as 50,000 local government workers could swell the ranks of the working poor during this turbulent period of inflationary pressure and high energy costs.

"This is against the significantly better pay offer made by the UK Government in England which will deliver a 10.5 per cent increase for the lowest paid in local authorities. The current offer in Scotland therefore stands as the lowest offer to public sector workers in the UK.

"The Scottish Government can and must do more with the powers it has to confront the crisis within local government.

"The Scottish Government and COSLA must radically rethink their approach to council workers. The cost-of-living crisis will tighten and the strain on local services will mount. Therefore, instead of continuing with the approach of managing the decline of services, a renewed strategy is paramount.

"This begins with an improved pay offer for workers who faced the challenges of Covid-19 and will continue to serve communities as the cost-of-living crisis deepens.

"It is the responsibility of all MSPs of all parties to ensure council workers are properly paid and services adequately funded. I therefore urge you to join GMB Scotland’s calls and write to the deputy first minister [John Swinney] for an improved pay offer in local government and a renewed strategy of the financing of local services."

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.

Unions have to provide two weeks notice to employers, the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) of any action.

The three unions have previously raised concerns with COSLA that they had not convened a meeting of the negotiating committee since March 4. They 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".

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 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".

GMB Scotland Senior Organiser Keir Greenaway said: “Tens of thousands of local government workers are at real risk of falling into working poverty this winter unless a significantly improved pay offer that confronts this cost-of-living crisis is tabled for their consultation – that’s the warning we are sending to political leaders this morning.

“Despite the Deputy First Minister’s plea to the UK Government for more money, the Scottish Government have been content to play politics before when it comes to finding additional support for other areas of our public services, so they can’t divert from the responsibilities they do have.

“The truth is that our political leaders have been sleeping at the wheel on the pay offer for local government because the paltry 2 per cent offer, worth less than a tenner week extra for the lowest paid, was overwhelmingly rejected by staff in March.

“They have already left these key workers at the mercy of soaring inflation and eye-watering energy bills for nearly six months, and as we head into a grim winter where these pressures will only rise further, this crisis will become a catastrophe for our members unless the government acts now.”

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 previously said it has "no formal role" in the pay negotiations, but said it is working with COSLA to explore options available to find solutions.

In a letter to the Unison, GMB and Unite trade unions, Katie Hagmann, Cosla's resources spokeswoman, said leaders “wanted to recognise the value of the local government workforce and make an additional offer, contingent on funding from Scottish Government”.

She said: “We heard yesterday that there is the very real possibility of a meeting... between myself, COSLA’s president, vice president, political group leaders, and the deputy first minister and I hope we can bring leaders together shortly after that to discuss an improved offer.

"However, as COSLA has made clear in all communications, 2 per cent is as far as local government can go.”

A COSLA spokesman 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 leaders,  we are currently in discussions with Scottish Government and await their response to leaders’ request for additional funding.”