Page last updated at 07:32 GMT, Wednesday, 21 April 2010 08:32 UK

Scottish council workers wait for deal on pay increase

By Jamie McIvor
BBC Scotland's local government correspondent

About 150,000 council workers across Scotland are still waiting for news of their annual pay rise.

Close up of pound coins
The annual pay rise for council workers normally takes effect on 1 April

Normally the rise would have taken effect on 1 April, but a deal has still to be agreed.

The council umbrella organisation Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) has made an offer to unions, which they are expected to discuss later this week.

Neither side has revealed what the offer is, but observers believe it is likely to be less than generous for many workers.

Pay will be a crucial issue over the years ahead, as councils across Scotland continue to face up to the squeeze on public finances.

National offer

One reason it will be crucial is that pay is the single biggest cost that councils are in a position to try to control.

The pay offer will cover the vast bulk of people employed directly by local authorities, but with some major exceptions such as teachers.

All of Scotland's 32 councils are members of COSLA. This means that pay offers do not vary between councils.

Essentially the national pay offer has to be one which all 32 councils can afford.

If a relatively expensive national pay offer was made, it could add to the chance of individual councils pulling out of COSLA and negotiating locally.

Unions say they appreciate the difficult financial situation facing councils but are determined to help lower paid workers.

In November, unions asked for an increase of 3%, or £600 a year, for the lowest paid.

However COSLA told them in February that they could not afford this rise, which it calculated would cost £100m, and asked the unions to come back with another claim.

There has even been speculation for several months that some staff on higher salaries could face a pay freeze. Indeed councillors and council chief executives have already agreed to forego a pay rise.

Although the regular pay rise for council staff has still to be agreed, many will also receive incremental rises as they progress within their jobs - this is a distinct issue.

Deal rejected

The three unions which represent the bulk of council workers - Unite, Unison and the GMB - are expected to discuss the employers' pay offer this week.

One irony is that in 2008 unions rejected a three-year pay deal in the hope that by doing this they might have got a better rise for their members in 2010. They feared a three-year deal would have locked them into an agreement which may not have kept pace with inflation.

The pay offer would only cover staff directly employed by councils, not those who work for agencies or private companies contracted to provide council services.

For instance, an industrial dispute is currently brewing at Culture and Sport Glasgow, the trust that now runs Glasgow's museums, galleries and sports facilities. It is accountable to the council but run independently.

A majority of workers at Culture and Sport Glasgow who took part in a ballot backed the threat of strike action over pay. Dates may be announced this week.

But the organisation says it is trying to balance its books and prevent the risk of compulsory redundancies.

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