A two per cent pay offer made to council workers in Ayrshire is "nothing short of an insult’ when councillors ‘gave themselves a 5.2 per cent increase", say trade unions.

Unison, Unite and the GMB are balloting school catering and cleaning staff in the area and across Scotland, as well as refuse collectors and recycling workers, on targeted strike action.

The ballot, organised in response to the pay offer made by local government umbrella body COSLA, closes on July 26.

Any action is likely to coincide with the start of the new school year, with South Ayrshire Council confirming that it would affect 790 staff.

East Ayrshire Council says there are 1,400 staff in the affected departments, with 430 of them union members.

The unions say members have worked "above and beyond" during the pandemic.

Renee Gillan, Unison's South Ayrshire branch secretary, said: “Unison is campaigning for a pay rise for all local government workers.

“After years of declining pay, council workers have had enough.

“The cost of living is putting pressure on workers and their families like never before.

“Having consistently worked above and beyond to keep our key services going over the past two years of the pandemic, and with the cost-of-living spiralling, COSLA’s offer of a two per cent pay increase for local government workers is nothing short of an insult.

“This is a pay cut, not a pay rise.

“It is less than the Scottish public sector pay policy, falls far short of our pay claim and is significantly below current levels of inflation.

“It will exacerbate the gap between those on the lowest and those on the highest rates of pay.

"And it is in sharp contrast to the 5.2 per cent increase that councillors gave themselves in April 2022.”

South Ayrshire Council depute leader Cllr Lee Lyons said that the impact on schooling, should the action go ahead, would concern school staff, parents and pupils after two years of disruption through Covid.

He said: “This will naturally be a concern to the 800 staff involved and indeed the parents, carers and pupils who have lost months of schooling over the past two years due to Covid.

“The ballot still has four weeks to run, and there is doubtless much talking still to be done, so all is not lost yet and it’s impossible to predict an outcome or the impact on service delivery at this stage.”

Councillor Peter Henderson, leader of the opposition SNP group on South Ayrshire Council, called on the UK and Scottish Governments to work to provide the financial backing to improve the settlement with staff.

He said: “The effect on wider society should the situation escalate to strike action will be widespread and I sincerely hope that both Governments will come forward with funding in order that we can support our workforce and address pay adequately.

“The public service workforce have worked tirelessly to provide services especially during the pandemic but do so at all times.

"The fact that their pay has effectively been reduced in value for years has also had an effect on moral and a feeling of being undervalued  for their work and commitment.

“Every section of employee is feeling the severe effects of the cost of living crises and the UK government (who have control of tax and VAT ) should be acting to help everyone.

“The fact that instead of decreasing the burden on employees and employers they are actually increasing tax on everyone is not a way forward.

“I do hope that we can achieve a negotiated agreement that is fair to all. I also hope that the public understand all sides in this matter.”

Cosla, which is negotiating the deal with the unions on behalf of all local authorities, also criticised the Scottish Government for refusing to meet council leaders.

COSLA’s resources spokesperson Gail Macgregor said:  “COSLA, every year, argues for fair funding for Local Government to maintain the essential services our communities rely on.

“No increase in our core funding damages these services and limits the options we have in successfully concluding pay negotiations. 

"Refusal to engage in discussion will only see this continue and our communities will see and feel the difference.”

A South Ayrshire Council spokesperson said: “Approximately 790 employees may be affected by the strike.

"We are unable to comment on the impact to service delivery as this is currently being reviewed.”

Amanda Lowe, head of people and culture at East Ayrshire Council, said: “It is still early days, since the ballot doesn’t close until end of July.

"This means that at the moment we don’t have any indication of actual numbers and cannot anticipate the full impact at this stage.

“In the meantime, the appropriate heads of service are aware of the potential strike action and will review their contingency plans and prepare as necessary.”