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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid) 26 October 2021

Agenda: Time for Reflection, Sir David Amess MP, Business Motion, Topical Question Time, Covid-19, Urgent Question, Retail Sector, Carbon Capture, Utilisation and Storage, Mental Health Needs and Substance Use, Committee Announcement (Climate Justice), Committee Announcement (Supply Chains), Business Motion, Decision Time, UK Malnutrition Awareness Week 2021 (Older People)


Urgent Question

Council and Education Workers Pay Deal

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to help agree a pay deal that is acceptable to council and education workers in order to avert industrial action.

Mark Griffin will know, because I have said it before, that local government pay negotiations are between the trade unions and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, through the Scottish joint committee. The Scottish Government is not a member of the SJC, and it has never taken part in those negotiations. However, I am very clear that a resolution that is suitable for all sides and avoids industrial action is in the best interests of all of us.

More than half of local government workers earn below £25,000 a year, and the current offer does not even bring the lowest paid up to £10 per hour. Given the trailed uplift of the national minimum wage, does the cabinet secretary believe that it is right that those workers should be paid fairly above that minimum hourly rate set by a Tory chancellor? The Scottish Government has intervened in pay negotiations for national health service workers and teachers, despite not being their direct employer. Will the cabinet secretary commit to intervening in the dispute, meeting the trade unions as requested, and funding a pay offer that puts local government workers on a par with their fellow key workers in the NHS?

I recognise the position behind Mark Griffin’s question. I have frequently put on record my gratitude to our public sector workers, including those who work in local government, and we have reflected that position in the public sector pay policy. That is in sharp contrast with the pay freeze south of the border, as Mark Griffin has said.

Our public sector pay policy maintains the distinctive Scottish approach and continues our focus on reducing inequalities. We have continued to do everything that we can to ensure that there is a fair settlement for local authorities, despite the challenges of the pandemic and the constrained fiscal position. I will continue to engage, and I hope that progress can be made to avert industrial action and ensure that there is a fair pay deal.

How does the cabinet secretary believe that we can keep schools open and safe, in the middle of a pandemic, with no cleansing, catering or janitorial staff? They have had no pay lift at all for the duration of the pandemic and notice for industrial action on 8 to 12 November has been served. That could be just the beginning of a long winter of school closures and waste or recycling not being collected. Our children’s education has been severely impacted by the pandemic. What will the Scottish Government do to intervene in the dispute and keep schools open?

I meet representatives of COSLA on a regular basis when it comes to the funding settlement for local authorities, and I continue to do that in advance of next year’s budget. The point that the member makes about providing reassurance and certainty to local government is something that I believe in.

I go back to my original answer, recognising how critically important our front-line workers are and recognising the importance of a pay deal that reflects the work that they have done. That is why the Scottish Government’s public sector pay deal is distinctive and is far fairer than that south of the border, despite there being no consequentials for it.

I sincerely hope that a resolution is found through the SJC, based on negotiations between the trade unions and COSLA.