Schools

Support staff could strike as unions plan ballots over pay deal

Unison and GMB are urging members to reject employers' 'final' pay offer, threatening walkouts in maintained schools and academies

Unison and GMB are urging members to reject employers' 'final' pay offer, threatening walkouts in maintained schools and academies

8 Mar 2023, 14:39

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The biggest unions for school support staff are preparing to ballot members over potential strike action, warning employers’ offer for the next financial year “falls short of what’s needed”.

Unison and the GMB announced the move less than a fortnight after local government employers offered maintained school and wider council workforces a £1,925 hike from April.

Local authority chiefs today repeated their warning last month that it was “full and final offer”. They are “disappointed” by the unions’ decisions.

The proposals are similar to the deal offered last year, amounting to around 9 per cent for the lowest-paid and 4 per cent for the highest-paid staff covered by the agreement.

Councils also agreed to review payscales amid a growing “challenge” keeping pay above the rising minimum wage.

Negotiations are between the National Employers, which represents most local authorities, and Unison, Unite and the GMB. Academy trusts are not included in the negotiations, but those which honour the agreements are likely to face staff ballots too. Teacher pay is handled separately.

Unions had called for a 12.7 per cent rise for support staff, which they said amounted to 2 per cent above projected inflation.

Mike Short, head of local government at Unison, said: “These unsung workers deserve to be properly rewarded. But this offer falls short of what’s needed when the value of their pay has been chipped away for years and bills are soaring.”

He said preparations were “now underway to ballot council and school employees to see if they’re prepared to strike to achieve a better deal”.

Unison says it has more than 250,000 support staff members across the UK, while the negotiations directly cover pay for around 1.4 million workers.

The GMB, the second largest support staff union, also plans to ballot more than 100,000 local government staff from later this month. It is a consultative vote, but if members back the union’s recommendation they reject the deal it will hold a full strike ballot.

Unite confirmed this week it had rejected the offer too. General secretary Sharon Graham said councils must “make a decent pay offer if industrial action is to be avoided”.

But Sian Goding, chair of the National Employers, said last month the lowest-paid would see their pay rise by £4,033, or 22 per cent, versus April 2021.

Unions said rises will be considerably less for many staff on term-time only contracts, however.

Goding also said the organisation was “acutely aware of the additional pressure this year’s offer will place on already hard-pressed council finances, as it would need to be paid for from existing budgets”.

Employers have even warned “jobs and services will be at risk” without additional central government funding.

A National Employers spokesperson said today: “The National Employers have today reaffirmed to the unions that their pay offer of at least £1,925, is full and final. They believe it is fair, given the wider economic backdrop.

“Unison’s timetable for its industrial action ballot is particularly frustrating as it means many months of uncertainty for employers and employees.

“This is despite the National Employers having moved swiftly to try to ensure employees receive their pay award as soon as possible.”

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