By Kathleen Oliver
UNISON, Scotland’s largest council union are still at the negotiating table after a cancelled strike on 6th October. They have recommended their members do not accept the latest pay offer made by Scotland’s councils.
Across Scotland, in the last two months, there have been two one day strikes by nearly 150,000 members of the three unions involved in the campaign for higher annual pay rates. The strikes have caused major disruptions for many different council sectors.
Government employers recently increased their first offer of a 2.5% annual increase to 3 %. This proposal has angered many Unison members and Unison negotiators. This is mainly due to the fact that because of the global economic crisis inflation is high at the moment.
Unison’s lead negotiator and Regional Officer Dougie Black said “The recent increases in inflation – especially in basic necessities like food and fuel – impact particularly hard on low-paid members, and a 3% increase does not deliver the kind of help they need.”
The impact of these strikes on local communities is ubiquitous but schools have been particularly affected. Many primary and secondary schools closed completely in late August disrupting learning for the pupils. Some schools stayed open while some of its workers were out on strike, and this meant that fellow workers who weren’t on strike were forced to cover for those who were.
Bankton Primary School in Livingston, West Lothian was one such school that did not close. However, some of its employees did go on strike.
Rhona Morrell, a nursery nurse at Bankton Primary, and member of Unison agrees with her union’s recommendation to reject the most recent pay offer. She said: “It is below the rate of inflation at the moment so would not make a difference, it is like a pay cut.”
The unions supporting the strikes appear to feel that council workers are not appreciated and this is reflected in their low wages. Rhona Morrell agrees with this assertion.
She said: “Council workers feel undervalued, especially nursery staff, and that is not just in West Lothian.” She felt that instead of putting in extra unpaid hours, people should work to their contract and everybody should now only do what they are paid to.
Christine Walker who is also a nursery nurse at Bankton Primary, and a ‘Wrap-around’ children’s leader is a member of Unison. However, she did not go on strike and feels that one day action’s are not going to make that much difference.
She said: “I would have (striked) but in this instance I didn’t because I am working two jobs just now and was very busy and felt that I was better doing those things.”
Although, school workers are sometimes advised to join a union when they start work, not everybody decides to. One such worker, who did not want to be named said she felt that “unions did not help her personally in the past” so she saw no point in joining a union like Unison.
Nevertheless some union members feel that being a part of Unison protects their rights as employees as well as offering advice. Christine Walker said: The council don’t protect you if a child makes a claim against you but Unison does.”
Despite the different opinions regarding the worthiness of being a part of a union, the general consensus among council workers is that they are undervalued. Negotiation talks are ongoing.