City parking wardens in strike threat

PARKING attendants are threatening to strike in the Capital in a fight to match the wages of their counterparts in London.

They are expected to be balloted within the next week on industrial action after rejecting an above-inflation 4.4 per cent pay rise.

The offer by the council's new parking contractor, NCP, would take the lowest-paid attendants to a basic wage of just under 12,000 a year.

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But the Transport and General Workers Union (T&G) is pressing for a minimum of nearly 14,000 this year, with a view to raising wages up to 18,000 within five years.

Workers have voted to reject the latest offer by around three to one and union leaders are expected to approve a ballot for industrial action in the coming days.

The parking attendants are likely to be given a choice between an all-out strike or more limited action, such as an overtime ban.

Council chiefs today said contingency plans to keep the city's streets clear of illegally parked cars are in place in case a strike goes ahead.

Rab Stewart, of the T&G, said: "NCP have moved some way in these negotiations already, and talks have gone well, but all we are asking is for a fair basic wage.

"Our members are faced with living costs that are comparable to those of NCP's parking attendants in places like London, but they are not getting the same pay.

"I can't see any reason why the (union's) executive won't approve this proposed ballot but in the mean time we have plenty of time to carry on negotiations.

"The problem is with the City of Edinburgh Council. We were extremely disappointed that the contract was given to NCP.

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"They went for one of the cheapest bids and this is now reflected in the pay offer to our members."

It is understood that the 7.50-an-hour pay rate wanted by unions is what previous parking contractor CPS offered to pay staff as part of its failed bid to retain the council's parking contract in December last year.

Unions also want to put in place a sliding scale of pay increases that would see wages reach 10 an hour by the end of NCP's five-year contract in 2011.

One attendant, who asked not to be named, said: "There is a lot of unrest among the staff, which is why you saw a pretty much unanimous vote against the pay offer.

"At the moment, I can see people going for action that stops short of a strike, something like stopping overtime or refusing to cover special events.

"But the longer this drags on then the more likely strike action will be. We just want a fair wage. When you look at our wages compared to NCP staff elsewhere in the country, we're not doing well."

NCP employs 110 parking attendants in Edinburgh and around 70 per cent of them are union members.

The NCP pay offer to take the minimum wage to 6.50 is 1.3 per cent above the Consumer Prices Index rate of inflation but just under the Retail Price Index rate, which is often used as a basis for wage demands.

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NCP spokesman James Pritchard said: "We have already made considerable progress with these talks and will we are confident we can bring this to an amicable conclusion.

"The people of Edinburgh can be reassured that we will continue to provide a professional and effective parking enforcement service throughout this period of negotiation."

NCP took over the council's parking contract from CPS in December last year. Around 250,000 tickets worth 7 million are issued in the city each year, with approximately 80 parking attendants on duty most days.

Councillor Ricky Henderson, the city's transport leader, said: "While possible industrial action is a long way off and has never happened with our parking attendants before, we will look at contingency plans if it does go ahead.

"What mattered during the tendering process was finding an operator who would provide the best quality of service, rather than how much money they would save us.

"The fact that the NCP bid was not the cheapest option means that the main reason for choosing them was based on how well they would run the contract."