Bins strikes to continue in Scotland and schools set to shut as latest pay offer rejected

Bin strikes will continue and hundreds of schools and nurseries look set to shut next week after trade union leaders rejected a new council pay offer.

A walkout in Edinburgh which saw rubbish litter the streets during the busy festival period will end on Tuesday morning, with similar action in other council areas coming to an end on Wednesday.

However, further strikes in waste and recycling are planned from next week, and staff in schools and nurseries across Scotland will walk out on September 6, 7 and 8.

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The GMB, Unison and Unite unions have been holding intense talks in recent days with local authority body Cosla, which led to a new pay offer being tabled.

A new offer has been made to Scottish council cleansing staff in a bid to halt ongoing strike action.
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Cosla said the package, worth half a billion pounds, would give a 5 per cent pay boost to all staff plus an additional cost-of-living payment for the lowest earners.

Based on a 37-hour week, no employee would get less than an additional £1,925, Cosla said. Those earning under £20,500 would receive at least £2,000 this year and next.

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It called it one of the best council pay deals in decades.

The Scottish Government said it would provide a further £200 million over two years – in addition to the £140 million of additional funding already announced – to provide the cost-of-living payments to local authority workers earning below around £39,000.

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Deputy First Minister John Swinney said: “Combined with the pay uplift itself, that would mean someone earning £20,000, for example, will receive a £2,000 increase in take home pay – equivalent to 10 per cent.

“Everyone under £39,000 would receive the cost-of-living payment ensuring their increase is at least £1,925 and it is only those above £39,000 that would just get 5 per cent.

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“No deal is perfect and I wish we could go further but this deal does offer significant increases for those on low pay.”

But Unison, Scotland’s largest local government union, said it will recommend its members reject the offer in a consultative ballot in the coming days.

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It said the minimum pay uplift of £1,925 matches the offer made to council workers south of the border.

However, it said only part of this payment will be consolidated into workers’ ongoing pay in Scotland, with the rest delivered via one-off payments.

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Johanna Baxter, Unison Scotland’s head of local government, said its negotiators have worked “day and night to find a solution” to the crisis.

But she said the size of the current cost envelope “is simply not big enough to deliver a decent consolidated wage rise for the majority of our members”.

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She said: “Unison’s local government committee met this morning and confirmed that strike action will continue while we consult our members on this latest offer.

"Council workers are struggling to cope with the cost-of-living crisis after ten years of austerity.

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"This is another pay cut they simply cannot afford, which is why we are recommending they reject the offer and continue with the action already planned to try to secure a bigger consolidated sum.”

Unite estimated the total offer represented a rise of between £1,925 and £2,000 for around 85 per cent of the workforce.

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However, it said it is “non-recurring”, will not be consolidated into salaries and failed to recognise that the cost of living is projected to increase for all workers.

It warned the next phase of strike action in education and waste services will hit 20 councils from 6 to 13 September.

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Wendy Dunsmore, Unite’s industrial officer, said: “Unite has rejected outright the latest pay offer from Cosla.

"The structure of the offer continues to disproportionately and unfairly effect the lowest paid with the majority of those being women.

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"In real terms it leaves the lowest paid workers no better-off and a significant proportion of the offer does not enhance overtime, allowances or pensions.

“The offer remains unacceptable and it represents a waste of precious time.

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"We understand the gravity of the situation across the country but equally our members are facing the worst cost-of-living crisis in a generation.

"Unite’s strike action remains scheduled for next week unless Cosla gets back to us with a credible offer which addresses our primary concerns.”

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GMB Scotland’s senior organiser for public services Keir Greenaway said: “A flat rate award is a key demand from unions to ensure more consolidated money goes into the pockets of frontline workers and not the highest paid in our councils.

"Cosla knew this but instead tabled this offer as an across-the-board percentage rise that only feathers the nests of service directors.

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“This was unacceptable to our local government committee members. It’s not credible that in the grip of the biggest cost-of-living crisis in 40 years, and with inflation and energy bills soaring, a head of service gets four times the consolidated increase than a bin collector, cleaner or carer.

“That’s why we have written to Cosla again this evening urging them to return to talks as soon as possible and to negotiate a new offer based on a flat rate increase.

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"If they don’t do this, then when our committee reconvenes tomorrow, we will outline our plans to fully consult GMB members.”

Pointing to the cost-of-living payment, a Scottish Government source accused trade unions of arguing for a better pay boost for staff earning higher salaries of between £39,000 and £60,000, adding: “We are in a bit of a weird place.”

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Despite the first round of strike action coming to an end in Edinburgh this week, many residents will not have their full backlog of waste collected before the next round of industrial action begins.

For households which have kerbside pickups in Scotland’s capital, landfill waste and dry recycling waste are collected on alternating weeks.

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With the next strike due to begin on September 6, the city council confirmed only one type of rubbish would be picked up per household.

Around 140,000 households in the city receive kerbside recycling.

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Scottish Tory MSP Miles Briggs said: “These talks have been going on for the past five days without reaching a resolution – yet still the SNP are nowhere to be seen.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton said: "Hundreds of thousands of tourists are going to return home and warn that Edinburgh looks like something out of a horror movie.

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"The SNP's council cuts have taken their toll. The Scottish Government must fund local authorities so that they can afford to give workers a proper pay rise."

Councillor Katie Hagmann, Cosla’s resources spokeswoman, said: “Council leaders have said consistently throughout these negotiations that we absolutely value and are grateful to all of our local government workforce.

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“It is perhaps only when waste starts piling up and there is the prospect of further disruption to life with school closures that others see the hidden value local government services deliver each and every day of the year in our towns, villages and cities.

“It is for this reason that we as employers have done everything possible to put the best offer we can to our workforce.

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"But we are now at the absolute extremes of affordability and this is already an offer which is stretching our already stretched finance like never before.

“This year’s offer is significantly better and different to previous offers and would have helped to support our council workforces across the country at this difficult time.

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“That support is crucial at any time but particularly now, during the cost of living crisis the country is facing.

"This is why we are so disappointed with the response to it from our trade union colleagues.

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“Given our commitment as employers to get to this point, we are disappointed that trade unions will not suspend planned strike action whilst they put this offer to members to allow workers to get back to doing what they do best, delivering high quality, essential services right across Scotland.

“My final point to the trade union colleagues is that we have done everything we possibly can to get to this stage and that this offer – which is still on the table - is as good as it gets.”