A former gas engineer standing to lead one of Britain’s biggest trade unions has challenged the next Scottish Government to improve pay for key workers.
Gary Smith is hoping to be named general secretary of the GMB later this month following the resignation of Tim Roache.
The 53-year-old, from Paisley, currently heads the union’s Scottish operation and has repeatedly spoken out over the pandemic to highlight poor wages and conditions being endured by care home staff and other frontline workers.
He said: “Covid-19 has exposed many underlying problems in our country but has also shone a light on what’s really important – the key workers who keep people alive and safe, collect our bins, support our kids, make sure the power stays on and keep us fed and watered.
“The heroes of the pandemic are not financiers or highly paid executives in our public and private sectors, they are the ordinary, yet extraordinary, people whose work adds true value and dignity to our society.
“We must take care of them. There is a clear political consensus that we must pay our care workers more.
“GMB’s campaign for a £15-an-hour minimum in care is a direct response to years of exploitation.
“If we want a social care sector on an equal footing with the NHS, then we need to value it as such. Let’s get it done.
“Local government workers have overwhelmingly rejected an £800 pay increase and it’s likely that swathes of NHS staff will do likewise with a four per cent proposal.
“After a decade of real-terms cuts to their incomes and a wretched year on the frontline of the pandemic, these workers need improved offers that help restore proper value to their pay.
“Applause doesn’t pay bills.”
Smith grew up in Edinburgh’s West Pilton and joined the GMB on his first day as an apprentice at Scottish Gas aged 16.
Ten years later he won a scholarship from the union to attend Ruskin College Oxford before going on to complete an MA in industrial relations at Warwick University.
He then went back to the gas industry while continuing to work as a union activist before taking a permanent job with the GMB. He was named GMB Scotland secretary in 2015.
Smith also criticised a failure to create green manufacturing jobs.
He added: “COP26 comes to Glasgow this year and Scotland is a blueprint for how not to deliver a just transition.
“It’s not too late to fix this but we can’t drive a recovery or help save the planet if we outsource our responsibilities to the rest of the world – let’s build a future here.”
The other candidates in the election are national secretary Rehana Azam and senior organiser Giovanna Holt.
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