SCHOOLS and nurseries across Scotland look set to be hit by closures next month weeks after pupils return from summer after the new leader of the country's largest union revealed she is confident workers will support heading out on strike.

Lilian Macer, the Scottish Secretary of Unison, who was appointed on August 1, said that soundings taken of its 30,000 members working in both primaries and secondaries who are being balloted in a pay dispute, have indicated they will vote in favour of mass action.

She said that "sustained industrial action" hitting schools could last for weeks and called on the Scottish Government and the council umbrella organisation Cosla, which represents employers, to get round the table and negotiate with her union.

The Unison ballot opened at the beginning of the month and runs until August 25 for its members who work in schools and nurseries attached to primaries across Scotland's 32 local authorities after it rejected an offer of 5% from Cosla.

The Herald:

Lilian Macer, the new Scottish Secretary of Unison. Photo Colin Mearns/The Herald.

Workers involved in any action would be janitors, cleaners, caterers, classroom assistants and administrative staff. Schools and nurseries affected would be forced to shut on strike days.

"My priority and focus of the last two weeks has been engaging with those branches to make sure we get the highest turnout. Membership participation in the ballot process," she told The Herald in her exclusive first interview since taking up her role.

"And our members are telling us that they are angry that the Scottish Government is not recognising and rewarding the contribution they make and they are angry enough to take action.

READ MORE: Schools set for strikes as Unison warns of sustained action

"So I think the returns from our members will be a resounding 'yes' for industrial action."

She added: "This is in the hands of the Scottish Government and the employers' Cosla. We want Cosla and the Scottish Government to get round the table and negotiate [with us] a fair wage for local government workers.

"And if they do not, then our members will take industrial action in schools across Scotland. I have no doubt about that. The clear message to the Scottish Government is to come round the table, negotiate with Unison, move on and make sure we reward and recognise local government workers for the role that they do.

"If our members decide that they are taking that action then the consequences will be that schools cannot operate without Unison members running those high quality services in schools. It will be across Scotland."

Unison are demanding a pay settlement that runs for the period 1 April 2023 to 31 March 2024.

It is calling for an increase of 12% or £4,000 whichever is the greater, depending on salary grades.

Detailed plans on what form of strike action would be taken will be decided by Unison's local branches and its local government committee after the ballot closes and, as seems likely, the result is in favour of strike action.

Ms Macer said: "Quite frankly it will be where we get maximum impact. So we are at stage where we are asking our members to withdraw their labour, then we need to make sure we have a maximum impact.

"And those committee structures through the branches will decide on the course of action.

"Nothing is off the table, there could be sustained industrial action, it could be intermittent, a day here, there. It could be weeks of action."

The teachers's union the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) ran a rolling programme of strikes in Scottish schools earlier this year.

In March, the EIS accepted the Scottish Government's 28 month pay deal to teachers which was made up of a 7% rise between April 2022 and March 2023, a 5% uplift between April and December 2023, and a 2% increase between January and July 2024.

The Scottish Government claimed cumulatively, the deal amounted to an uplift of 12.4% by April 2023 and 14.6% from January 2024.

Members of two other trade unions have already voted this summer in favour of strike action in schools.

Unite has said its members have voted to strike in 10 local authority areas after the summer holidays.

The councils affected by Unite's action are Glasgow, Fife, Dundee, Argyll and Bute, Clackmannanshire, Western Isles, East Dunbartonshire, East Renfrewshire, Inverclyde and Orkney.

The result of the Unite ballot emerged earlier this month just days after school staff who are members of the GMB union voted for strikes in Glasgow, Dundee, Aberdeen, Clackmannanshire, the Western Isles, East Dunbartonshire, Falkirk, Orkney, Renfrewshire and South Ayrshire.

Any strikes would cause further disruption for pupils who have already faced extended school closures in recent years during the Covid-19 pandemic and first national strike action by teachers in Scotland over pay for four decades, which got under way in November last year.

Hundreds of schools were due to close in 11 council areas last year due to planned strikes by non-teaching staff, but the mass action was called off by the GMB, Unite and Unison following last ditch talks between unions and council leaders, hosted by then first minister Nicola Sturgeon.

The unions say that the dispute has escalated after council umbrella body Cosla failed to improve on the 5 per cent pay offer during talks last week.

Cosla has insisted that a "strong offer" had been made which "compares well to other sectors".

Earlier this year, Unison consulted its entire local government membership, some 84,000 workers, on Cosla's pay offer and 87 per cent voted to reject.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “Local government pay negotiations are a matter for local authorities as employers and unions. The Scottish Government and Cosla have committed to respect this negotiating arrangement as part of the Verity House Agreement.

“Despite UK Government cuts, the Scottish Government has provided a further £155 million to support a meaningful pay rise for local government workers, which has been taken into account in the pay offer already made by Cosla.

“The Scottish Government urges all the parties involved to work together constructively and reach an agreement which is fair for the workforce and affordable for employers.”