Strikes to disrupt Highland and Western Isles schools

Lochaber High School could be one of the schools affected by the Unison strike action.

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Three days of strike action will affect schools across the Highlands and the Western Isles next week after the Unison union rejected a revised pay offer.

Comhairle nan Eilean Siar and Highland Council are two of the 24 local authorities that will be affected by the industrial action taking place between Tuesday September 26 and Thursday September 28.

Local government workers employed in school support roles, including school cleaners, caterers, janitors and school support assistants, are expected to walkout.

This could close some nurseries, primary schools and secondary schools, and follows the union’s rejection of a new pay offer on Thursday (September 21).

Head of local government at Unison Scotland, Johanna Baxter said: “This revised offer is far too little, too late.

“Strikes will therefore proceed next week. We cannot agree to a pay offer that will result in further cuts to our members jobs and the services they provide.

“It has taken Cosla six months to send us a revised pay offer, which for the vast majority of staff is an increase of only 0.5 per cent in a year. These are not well-paid staff, they are on less than the Scottish average wage and it is simply not acceptable.

“Far from learning the lessons of last year’s dispute the situation has been worse this year, caused further delay local government workers’ pay during a cost-of-living crises and created uncertainty for parents.”

Argyll and Bute Council is one of eight Scottish local authorities not affected by the strike action, while the GMB and Unite unions have suspended their proposed strike action in the Western Isles.

A Comhairle nan Eilean Siar statement said: “Following a thorough evaluation of the likely extent of the (Unison’s) industrial action, it is now confirmed that it will result in significant disruption to education provision across the Western Isles.

“Due to the level of disruption expected across many critical roles, the Comhairle is not able to guarantee having sufficient staff available to safely operate provision in schools, nurseries or public services situated within schools.”

The Comhairlie also warned that some libraries, sports centres and swimming pools based in schools would be closed between September 26-28.

A Highland Council statement said: “The council’s intention is that schools will remain open to pupils and staff on strike days where it is safe to do so unless otherwise notified.

“Letters have been sent to all Highland schools to inform them of the decision for their setting to remain open or closed. It is expected that 27 schools will remain open.

“It is anticipated that there will be significantly reduced numbers of support staff in the remaining early learning and childcare, primary and secondary schools across Highland.

“The safe supervision of children and young people is of the utmost importance and therefore the decision has been taken to close all other schools, as notified by letter, to pupils.

“The action involves all categories of school-based non-teaching staff including, pupil support assistants, early years staff, clerical and admin staff, catering, cleaning and facilities management staff.”

Both local authorities said that any strike action alterations and additional information would be communicated through the usual channels and social media.

Cosla’s resources spokesperson, councillor Katie Hagmann said: “I am extremely disappointed with the news from Unison today that not only are they recommending rejection of this half a billion pay package – they are putting our communities, especially our children and young people, through the turmoil and mayhem of strikes next week with their actions.

“We absolutely value all our local government workforce and throughout these negotiations council leaders have re-iterated the value we place on the workforce and the work that they do.

Ms Hagmann added: “It must be reiterated that we are talking about a pay package worth over £445 million, specifically targeted at the lower end of our workforce.  A pay package which not only compares well to other sectors but recognises the cost-of-living pressures on our workforce and which would mean the lowest paid would see an in-year uplift of over £2000 or just under 10 per cent.”