UNISON has entered into a formal dispute with Surrey County Council after 87% of staff represented by the union at the authority voted to reject the employer’s 2023-24 pay offer.

The union, which represents care workers, refuse collectors, social workers, teaching assistants, librarians, street cleaners and other staff at the council and local schools, has told senior managers at the authority it will prepare for a strike ballot if an improved pay offer isn’t forthcoming.

Surrey County Council, which negotiates pay locally with staff and is not part of the national local government pay scheme, made an offer to increase its pay budget by 5% overall in 2023-24.

Unison says that this meant the lowest paid staff would receive an increase of between 7 and 8%, with the vast majority receiving less than 5%. This fell far short of the union’s claim for a 12% inflation-linked increase, with a new minimum wage of £12 per hour.

Surrey County Unison branch secretary Paul Couchman said: “Staff have sent an overwhelming message to the council and have roundly rejected its opening pay offer.

 “After years of below-inflation pay increases and with the soaring cost of living, staff are struggling.

“With many bills set to rise further still this month, enough is enough.

 “The strength of feeling on this issue is clear. The ball is now firmly in the county council’s court and the clock is ticking.

“Councillors can avoid disruptive industrial action, but they need to get serious and make a significantly improved pay offer.”

 A demonstration will take place from 12pm-1.30pm on Tuesday 25 April ahead of the council’s people, performance and development committee meeting at County Hall, Reigate. This is the body that decides pay for all council staff.