Briefing – Notification of potential national industrial action in Local Authorities

Below is a Council briefing following the vote of UNISON, Unite and GMB trade union members to reject a pay offer from the Scottish Government. This follows claims that SNP ministers dismissed council workers as ‘not on par‘ with health workers in pay talks. Indeed, SNP Councillors across Scotland are great at paying lip service to the work Council staff have undertaken throughout the pandemic, but when push came to shove at COSLA in May they voted AGAINST a fair pay rise for staffthey put party loyalty before teachers and other Council staff.

The SNP/Green Government need to engage with trade unions in good faith and negotiate a fair pay deal.

The purpose of this briefing is to update members on the current status of national pay negotiations for local government employees and the possibility of industrial action arising from this. 

The joint trade unions for local government employees (UNISON, GMB and Unite the Union) recently voted to reject the revised national pay offer presented by CoSLA on behalf of Local Authorities.

Whilst negotiations are continuing, Unite the Union and the GMB are currently undertaking consultative ballots with their members and, as of 23 August 2021, we have received formal notification from UNISON that they are intending to issue voting papers to their members on
1 September 2021 to ballot them on whether or not they are prepared to take part in strike action. 

Main Points

  • The joint trade unions for local government employees (UNISON, GMB and Unite the Union) recently voted to reject the revised national pay offer presented by CoSLA. Whilst negotiations are continuing, in the absence of an agreement the joint unions are undertaking ballots with their members.
  • UNISON will be issuing a ballot to their members on 1 September 2021 balloting members on whether they are prepared to take part in strike action (yes/no answer). This ballot will close on 22 September 2021. The period during which any strike action can take place covers from 6 October 2021 to 21 March 2022. The UNISON ballot for strike action also specifies that the members they are specifically seeking to involve in the proposed action would cover employees working in school cleaning, school catering and waste and cleansing services.
  • Both Unite the Union and the GMB are currently undertaking a consultative ballot with their members as to whether or not the pay offer should be accepted. The result of this will determine their next steps and whether they too issue a ballot for strike action.
  • Before any industrial action can be taken, certain ballot thresholds need to be met to comply with employment law provisions:
    1. At least 50% of members covered by the ballot need to vote;
    2. A simple majority of those who voted must be in favour of industrial action; and,
    3. In certain important public services, the level of support required must be at least 40% of total members entitled to vote.
  • If certain Council employees were to strike this could seriously and adversely affect vulnerable children and adults, or anyone receiving certain key public services. Trade unions are required to provide lists of categories of employees whom they reasonably believe will be asked to take part in any proposed industrial action.
  • As an employer, we are collating a list of roles we believe should be exempted from participating in industrial action and if agreed, the unions can grant ‘life and limb’ exemptions from strike action. Simple ‘inconvenience’ is not an acceptable reason for requesting exemptions, but rather where there is genuine concern surrounding risk to vulnerable service users or critical public services. “Life and limb” cover would typically include areas such as residential homes for children and the elderly, emergency duty social work, etc.
  • A cross organisational working group of officers led by the Service Director: Human Resources has been established to ensure we have resilience and communication plans in place to respond accordingly.
  • Discussions with the City of Edinburgh Council Trade Unions Branches and relevant Regional Officials locally will be continuing. However, member attention is drawn to the fact that, as a result of the current national position, the City of Edinburgh Council UNISON Branch has withdrawn from local discussions which were underway to explore opportunities for reform and change in respect of pay and terms and conditions of service, following the successful consolidation of Scottish Local Government Living Wage earlier this year.
  • CoSLA Leaders will meet next on 27 August where the position on the national pay negotiations will be discussed further.
  • Further briefing notes will be provided to elected members to update on this situation as it develops.

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