Anas Sarwar has argued that bin strikes currently underway across 14 local authorities in Scotland are “entirely a mess of the SNP’s making”.
In a Times Radio interview this afternoon, the Scottish Labour leader accused the SNP of pursuing a “disinformation campaign” around the industrial action and urged the party to instead “get around the table and get it sorted”.
“This is a national dispute, not a local dispute. So the dispute that the council workers have is with COSLA, which is the umbrella body for local authorities and is run by the SNP, and their dispute is with the Scottish government,” he said.
“The union’s made this clear too, that their dispute is not with the local leadership in Edinburgh. Their dispute is with the umbrella body COSLA that sets these pay deals, and the Scottish government, and they need to provide the money in order to give a fair pay settlement.”
The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, or COSLA, is the national association of Scottish councils and acts as an employers’ association for its 32 members. Members from three trade unions are involved in the dispute: GMB, UNISON and Unite.
COSLA initially proposed a 3.5% pay increase. The body then increased the offer to 5%, with the minimum hourly rate also to be raised to £10.50. The unions said they needed more detail on how this would impact their lowest paid members.
Deputy First Minister John Swinney said £140m of new money had been allocated to the local government pay settlement, but said that it “would be helpful if local authorities leaders had made the offer of 5% much earlier than they did”.
“Labour and Conservative leaders in Cosla stalled on giving that offer to trade unions,” he claimed.
Unite has pointed out that for more than half of local government workers, the offer on the table represented an offer of between £900 to £1,250 while the UK government is offering council workers in England a £1,925 flat-rate pay offer.
Unite industrial officer Wendy Dismore warned that the dispute could cause “months of disruption” but said “the 5% today will not be worth the same in a matter of months when the cost-of-living crisis will bite even harder”.
Johanna Baxter, UNISON Scotland’s head of local government, said her union was “a long way” from agreement. GMB Scotland organiser Keir Greenaway said “the fact that COSLA couldn’t even commit to the basic principle of a flat-rate offer which would help the lowest paid is bitterly disappointing and frankly shameful”.
Sarwar told listeners today that from his own conversations with unions leaders they “in principle seem open to the 5% figure”, but added: “They would like to see a fixed amount of what that value, the 5%, would be – meaning a more tapered pay deal for those that are earning less getting a higher rate… So, for example those on £25,000 getting a higher rate of pay increase compared to those perhaps on £80,000.”
Hundreds of GMB and Unite union members in Edinburgh’s waste and recycling service had already begun a strike, which was planned to last until August 30th. School and nursery staff in nine Scottish council areas are also to go on strike for three days next month in the same pay row.