Cost-of-living crisis: Unions warn of 'huge period of unrest' as strike ballots loom in Scotland

Union leaders have warned of a "huge period of unrest" in coming months, with an expectation of industrial action including potential strikes.

Tracey Dalling, Unison’s new Scottish secretary, said there was "huge anger" at a lack of recognition for frontline workers as they struggle with the cost-of-living crisis.

The EIS teachers' union said it is pushing for a 10 per cent pay increase this year and will ballot for strike action in October if a “satisfactory outcome” is not reached.

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General secretary Larry Flanagan said: “The clear intention is that we’re building for industrial action in the autumn if we’re not making progress in the negotiation.”

The EIS teachers' union is pushing for a 10 per cent pay rise for teachers. Picture: TSPL

He added: "I think a ballot on strike action is probably inevitable.”

Mr Flanagan said there was “serious anger” among teachers.

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GMB Scotland secretary Louise Gilmour said there was an "increasing demand from our members for an industrial response to this cost-of-living crisis".

It comes after Chancellor Rishi Sunak was criticised for failing to do enough to tackle the squeeze on household budgets in his Spring Statement.

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Inflation is forecast to average 7.4 per cent this year, with the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) warning of the biggest fall in living standards since records began in the 1950s.

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Ms Dalling, who was announced as Unison's first female Scottish Secretary earlier this month, told The Scotsman: "I think my expectation is that there will be a level of industrial unrest because I'm not expecting pay awards that will come anywhere close to inflationary measures at the moment.

"But, as you know, industrial action is a legal process. We get tied up, because the Tory Government make us, in a whole raft of red tape. So it will ultimately be for the members to decide.

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"But I think the strength of feeling at the moment is that we need to do something.”

She said the pressures facing workers were the worst she had seen in her 30-year trade union career.

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Asked if industrial action could extend to strikes, Ms Dalling said: "It may well do, it will be for our members to determine. But it is the ultimate action we can take – strike action.

"There are other forms of action we can take, but it is the ultimate means of protest for us.”

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Unison represents around 150,000 workers delivering public and related services across Scotland.

Ms Dalling said pay talks could extend beyond April and "it’s often well into the summer before we're in a position where we'll go out to ballot on a final offer".

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She said: "If that is rejected by our members, we'll take the next step. But industrial action procedures are tied up in a huge amount of red tape.

"It takes us about eight weeks from that final offer point to actually deliver industrial action.

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"We could be, I think, seeing a huge period of unrest as we work through all of this over the course of the coming months."

She added: "There's just huge anger around all of this. We've just emerged from a pandemic. It's hard even to say it's over because we don't know that.

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"People have worked their socks off. We've run campaigns about 'clapping's not enough, where's the money?'

"I just feel that there's a real sense of anger and real disappointment that there's not the recognition beyond the platitudes, in some respects.

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"Words are great, people need to hear that they're valued, but the real value tends to be how you are able to live your life having worked 35, 40 hours a week delivering frontline services.

"And if the answer is 'I just can't, I can't afford my house costs, my food costs, my fuel costs', then where is the value in that?”

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Mr Flanagan said the EIS was seeking to build a “major campaign” around its 10 per cent pay push, starting with the council elections in May.

He said: “If we’re looking at industrial action, then that will primarily be focused on strike action.”

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Ms Gilmour said: “After a torrid two years, workers are exhausted, but they are also increasingly angry because the promised recovery has instead materialised into the biggest fall in living standards since the days of rationing.

“That’s reflected in the increasing demand from our members for an industrial response to this cost-of-living crisis.”

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However, she said there was an opportunity too, insisting members were winning “double-digit pay increases in sectors like logistics and clothing manufacturing, and securing inflation tackling rises in the whisky and spirits and engineering industries”.

A Unite spokeswoman said: "We are balloting members almost on a weekly basis, because the offers that are getting made to them are, in a lot of situations, not acceptable.

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"I think our members have got to the place where they are thinking 'no, we're not accepting it’."

She added: "This is the pay round at the moment, so if our members are saying that what they are being offered at this point in time isn't sufficient, then that will be, unfortunately, a bleak summer for too many and we are prepared to take action."

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Strike action was called off on Friday in Glasgow amid a long-running equal pay dispute.

A Scottish Government spokesman said it was listening to the concerns of organisations “as inflation and rising energy prices affect us all”.

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He said: “The Scottish Government is using all powers and resources available to us to support people, businesses and charities.

“We recognise the vital role frontline workers played and continue to play during the pandemic, and our pay policy continues to focus on protecting the lowest paid.

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“Most of the key policy levers needed to tackle these issues still lie with the UK Government and it is disappointing that, amidst a cost-of-living crisis, the Chancellor has not used his Spring Statement sufficiently to provide lifeline support that could prevent households and workers from facing fuel poverty.”