Local government pay 101

The annual pay award for local government workers in Scotland is set through negotiations between COSLA (Convention of Scottish Local Authorities) and the Scottish Joint Council (SJC), which is made up of the trade unions Unite, Unison and GMB.

The budget for the pay comes from the Scottish Government. The arrangements for the annual pay award are nothing to do with the individual councils.

The local government pay award is for all 32 councils in Scotland, covering around 150,000 workers. Around 16,000 are Unite members.

Local or national?

The annual pay rise is set nationally with COSLA.

Things like your grade, the spinal column points, shift allowance, annual leave entitlement etc. are set locally with Edinburgh Council.

Timescales and events

Scottish Government sets its budget in December.

SJC submits its pay claim in January. This sets out what the unions are calling for. It gives COSLA plenty time to have pay sorted by April.

City of Edinburgh Council sets its budget in February. This outlines what pay deal it has budgeted for.

COSLA respond with a pay offer. This should be before April—as this is when the pay deal should be in place—but it is normally late.

How unions make decisions

Each union has its own Scottish local government committee.

Your branch has four reps on the local government committee, giving it a strong voice. Contact a branch official if you have something to raise at the committee.

Reps on the local government committee decide

  • the terms of the pay claim, following a survey of members to hear what they are looking for
  • what workers to ballot
  • when to ballot

This position is then taken to the SJC, where Unite, Unison and GMB agree on a pay claim to submit and plan which workers to ballot.

When a pay offer comes in from COSLA, the local government committee can

  • reject the offer
  • decide to ballot members on the offer—a ‘consultative ballot’.

The committee cannot accept any offers. An offer can only be accepted by members’ vote.

Pay and inflation

The rate of inflation indicates how much prices are going up compared to last year. There are two main figures you will see used to calculate inflation.

Both look at a range of products and services and compare how much the price has increased over a year.

  • consumer price index (CPI), this is lower as it does not include housing costs
  • retail price index (RPI).

If your pay rise is less than the rate of inflation, then it is a pay cut. Your wages are worth less than they used to be.

To get a real pay rise, the pay deal must be above the rate of inflation.

We consider the RPI a better measure of inflation accurate for this, as most workers pay for housing. The media often uses the CPI, which is only useful if you’ve paid off your mortgage and don’t have to pay council tax.

Strikes over pay

The unions will target groups of workers to take industrial action over pay, rather than ballot the entire council workforce. This is due to the restrictive requirements of the Trade Union Act 2016, one of which means ballots need at least a 50% turnout.

When workers are striking over the annual pay award, they are fighting on behalf of all council workers across Scotland. In 2022 it was members in Waste and Cleansing, in 2023 it was school support staff. These workers were not striking over their pay only—they were striking for your pay!

Read our guide on when others are striking to find out how you can support the colleagues who take action to win you more pay.