Winter of discontent looms over Glasgow City Council amid union disputes

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GMB union members have voiced their concern over ongoing pay disputes with Glasgow City Council that could lead to a winter of industrial action.

The two major disputes involve gender pay discrimination with female workers in Social Care, Education and Home Care along with a pay dispute with cleansing workers.

Chris Mitchell, the convener of the Glasgow cleansing workers branch, was a leading figure in the eight day strike during COP26. He has been at the heart of negotiations to increase the pay of workers on the lowest rungs of the job grading system.

He says: “We’re going through an equal pay claim. we’re going through a discriminatory grading system. Glasgow is different from all the other 31 local authorities right across Scotland. They use a completely different grading system… we’re fighting twice now. Obviously fighting equal pay claims and a full overhaul of the evaluation process with everybody’s grade getting scrapped.”

Chris Mitchell demonsrating in George Square.

 

After the most recent offer from Glasgow City Council falied to settle the dispute, cleansing workers will be balloted in December to decide whether further action is necessary. A list of 14 concessions and a 5.6% pay rise has been deemed by many in the union as insufficient.

Mr Mitchell says: “It’s only benefited the people at the top of the tree. It’s an upside down tree and we’re at the bottom and they’ve put themselves into higher grades and positions.

“Now someone sitting in an office, earning 80 grand is trying to dictate to us about what’s going on at the bottom and that makes no difference to the public. They don’t know this person. They want to know who is going to sweep their street and empty their bins.”

The council have said that they see no justification for a strike.

A key issue is the timeliness of the payment of bonuses and backdated pay that was agreed in previous negotiations. Mr Mitchell said that a bonus was agreed to be paid between the unions and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) which will not reach the pockets of workers until next year.

Chris says: “I’m absolutely disgusted. They promised us that money and because of the amount of people, Glasgow City Council have said that they won’t process this money until January or February next year. I’ve got workers that are low pay depending on this because we’re also getting our strike money taken off us in December. They’re putting us into financial hardship even though we were promised that money.”

The union has claimed that four out of five cleansing workers are ready to strike again with 99% of workers across home care, Glasgow Life, education and social work were prepared to take action. Many workers have taken to social media to share their mutual support across different sectors.

Chris says: “The carers, they’ve got the biggest equal pay strike you can get. They’re all due money. These women are entitled to go on strike. At the end of the day, they were getting paid less than their counterparts and that is a fact.”

The gender pay dispute centres around the council’s estimate that it will take until 2024 to implement the scheme to eliminate the sexist pay discrimination. This has led to the union calling for further interim compensation payments to be made in the meantime.

Rubbish piled high during the 8 day strike earlier this month.

Frances, a Home Care worker within the GMB union, says: “Loads of our clients have passed away waiting for the equal pay from all these years ago. Some haven’t even been paid up from before 2018 so we’re looking to get an income payment sometime next year hopefully. The job evaluation isn’t going to be done until at least 2024. We’re all getting old now, there are a lot of older carers in the workforce and they’re not wanting to wait for their money.”

In 2017 the Court of Session made two rulings that both the council’s payment protection scheme and its Workforce Pay and Benefits Review discriminated against women workers. There was a subsequent settlement process in 2019 as the claimant group agreed to suspend legal proceedings with the council to focus on replacing the discriminatory payment plan.

Commenting on the wait since the 2017 court decisions, Frances says: “We’re still being discriminated against. We’re still waiting to get it sorted and they don’t seem to be in any hurry to get it done. I think they’re just waiting until the next election so they can pass it on to somebody else. We’re not willing to wait that long.”

According to Union leaders, the council has said that it is willing to discuss payments for those who have had none so far but only for a very small number of the jobs that were paid out under the deal reached in 2019. This was deemed a ‘cynical ploy to divide the women of Glasgow’ according to a Unison branch officer.

Frances says: “It’s shocking. It’s a disgrace. People might think ‘we’re getting paid out so we won’t bother with the others’ but that’s not the case. We need to stick together on this and be united. It’s one for all… that’s always been the way for us.”

Frances (centre bottom row) shown with her fellow protestors.

 

A spokesperson for Glasgow City Council said:

“We are currently negotiating in good faith on the equal pay issue with claimants’ representatives. The 14 point plan for the cleansing service was rejected by GMB leadership a fortnight ago but there has been constructive dialogue with GMB leadership since then. If there is any communication from GMB following their consultative ballots, it will be dealt with appropriately at that time.

“We do not believe there will be any justification for strike action.”

 

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