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Action call by north politicians to try and avoid strike by council workers in the Highlands

By Gordon Calder

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NORTH politicians have called for action to try and avoid a strike by council workers which would affect the Highlands.

Liberal Democrat MP, Jamie Stone and Caithness, Sutherland and Ross SNP MSP, Maree Todd, want to see unions, the Scottish Government and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) get together to try and avert industrial action next month.

They made the pleas after the Unite, GMB and Unison unions rejected a two per cent rise and members voted to strike. Any action would impact on refuse and waste services in the Highlands but not schools, unlike other parts of the country.

Jamie Stone wants action to try and avoid strike which would affect the Highlands
Jamie Stone wants action to try and avoid strike which would affect the Highlands

Mr Stone said: "A strike going ahead would be most unfortunate. That said, the cost-of-living crisis is having an awful impact on people across the Highlands and a pitiful two per cent pay increase falls well below inflation. For the sake of council workers and the general public, the Scottish Government and COSLA urgently need to get around the table to find a fair and acceptable resolution."

Mrs Todd said: "I’m aware that Unite members in the Highland Council have voted for strike action, which is likely to affect refuse and waste collection.

Maree Todd says strike would affect refuse and waste collection services
Maree Todd says strike would affect refuse and waste collection services

"Given the widespread impact industrial action would have across the Highland Council area, I hope that meaningful discussions between COSLA and the trade union will take place to help identify a resolution that prevents strike action and disruption to vital public services."

Highland Council confirmed that it has received confirmation from GMB and Unite unions that the ballot of their members in waste and recycling services on the two per cent pay offer has been rejected.

A spokeswoman said: "This ballot gives a mandate for the two unions to call out their members in these specific service areas which is likely to have an impact on services to the public although the actual impact will not be known until further information is received from the unions.

"The earliest action could take place is mid-August and the council will keep members of the public informed of temporary disruption to service delivery. There will be no impact on schools."

Staff at 26 of Scotland's 32 local authorities voted for strike action – the largest ballot of its kind in more than a decade. More than half of Scotland’s 250,000 council workers are said to be earning less than £25,000 a year for a 37-hour week.

Unison, Unite and the GMB members voted for a walkout which in the north means that bin collections will stop and recycling centres will close along with associated services on strike days unless a pay deal can be worked out.

More than 200 schools across the Highlands will be unaffected by the action.

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said members are at the end of their patience. "The message for both the Scottish Government and COSLA is crystal clear: thousands upon thousands of members won’t tolerate real terms pay cuts any more, and they have had enough. Our members are being forced to take this action due to a derisory pay offer, and we will support them in this fight for better jobs, pay and conditions in local government," she said.

The Scottish Government said it cannot intervene in pay negotiations but urged "all parties to continue dialogue and seek a resolution which avoids industrial action."

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