Winter roads crisis is averted

Scottish Borders Council has managed to avoid a winter of discontent after reaching an agreement with workers threatening strike action. 

Thursday, 21st November 2019, 10:52 am
The dispute between Scottish Borders Council and its roadworkers has been settled.

Unite, the union representing local authority road workers, was engaged in a dispute with the council over summer standby payments. 

The row escalated, with the roadworkers threatening to strike during the winter when clearing the roads is a priority for the council, and the council in turn threatened to hire contractors.

However, the two parties have finally came to an ‘amicable solution’ and the winter strike action has now been averted.

Although details of the compromise have not been revealed by either party, they have released a joint statement from Scottish Borders Council’s chief executive Tracey Logan, and Unite regional officer Wille Thomson. 

It reads: “Scottish Borders Council and Unite the Union are pleased to confirm that following a period of constructive negotiations we have reached an amicable solution regarding the dispute within our roads service.

“We believe this positive outcome will ensure that the council and its workforce will continue to provide a high level of service to our communities.”

Currently, summer standby for Scottish Borders Council’s road workers is voluntary, but council chiefs are trying to make this mandatory, in line with other sections of the council.

Earlier this year, Scottish Borders Council notified the unions that not enforcing the same terms and conditions across the whole council could leave the local authority open to gender pay discrimination claims, as the mainly male roads section of the council is not required to be on standby over the summer, whereas the mainly female care home staff are.

Summer standby payment for roads workers is currently £85.31, albeit it on a voluntary basis, and Scottish Borders Council is offering to up this to £101 as long as it becomes mandatory.

The two main unions which represent road workers at Scottish Borders Council, Unite and Unison, have been in discussion with the council ever since it informed employees that the terms and conditions would change.

The talks with Unite broke down, and 86.4% of the union’s members who voted in an industrial ballot voted for strike action. The turn out was 78%.

Workers went on a 24-hour strike on August 29, and held a demo outside of the council’s Newtown St Boswells headquarters.

When a compromise could still not be reached, Unite members again voted to undertake strike action, but this time over the winter, leading the council to threaten to bring in contractors to cross the picket line. 

However, with this last-minute agreement between the parties, neither action will be required.