Although two trade unions have accepted a pay offer for council employees, a holdout from the third and largest union means schools look set to close again this autumn.

The GMB Scotland and Unite unions recently called off planned school strikes and accepted a pay offer from the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (Cosla).

But members of Unison Scotland, the largest union representing local government employees – including school support staff – rejected the same offer. 

Instead, they voted to go back on strike, with the first date for their next wave of industrial action announced for Wednesday, November 1.

The situation has caused confusion, with parties not technically at the negotiating table despite thousands of union members in opposition to the current offer.

Read more: Date announced for new school strikes as union sees membership surge

Although they often move in unison, unions are not bound to act in harmony with one another. Instead, the votes of members decide each organisation's course of action. 

In a statement on Tuesday, GMB said 62% of members working in councils supported Cosla's most recent offer.

It included a minimum increase of £1.04 per hour for the lowest-paid council workers, a rise of 9.6%, and a minimum increase of £1 per hour for their colleagues.

After conducting a similar member ballot, Unite announced that 71.38% of its members also voted to accept.

But as the union representing the most school support staff in Scotland, Unison’s voice is the loudest on the employee’s side of negotiations.

For as long as Unison rejects the pay offer, there is likely to be little change to the level of disruption.

Unison officials have said that Cosla has still not met key requests from its members.

These include a guarantee that any pay uplift will be applied to all workers from April 1, rather than the two-stage increase that is currently proposed for some.  

Read more: Why school support staff have walked out

Unison is also asking for employers to commit to a concrete timeline for implementing a £15 minimum wage across the sector. They argue this will lead to a significant increase in some employee’s in-year pay rise.

Unison Scotland’s head of local government Johanna Baxter said this pay rate could solve a longstanding problem of low pay and begin to address recruitment struggles.

She added that the union’s responsibility is to represent the democratic voice of its own members.

"Unison is by far the largest union in this sector, with more than 84,000 members across local government in Scotland. 

“We have a very clear mandate from our members, and with that, we strongly urge Cosla and the Scottish Government to return to the negotiating table."

If the planned strikes follow the pattern established when Unison struck in September, roughly 21,000 school employees could walk out in 24 council areas.

All but eight local authorities had to either close schools and nurseries completely or limit services on September 26, 27 and 28. Strike action has been announced in four local authorities for November 1.

This was despite the fact that Unison was the only union to down tools at the time.

When asked how Unison’s stance will influence future negotiations, a Cosla spokesman only said that employers welcome GMB and Unite’s decision to accept the pay offer.

Councillor Katie Hagmann, Cosla’s Resources Spokesperson, said the deal agreed by GMB and Unite represents Cosla’s “best and final offer”.