Edinburgh strikes: Council staff speak out about pay dispute with claims some forced to quit over low wage

Waste services and cleaning staff have spoken out ahead of next wave of strike action, amid claims some forced to quit jobs due to ‘unfair and unrealistic’ low wage.

Following an 11-day strike which has seen rubbish pile up on streets across Edinburgh, as well as other towns and cities across Scotland, workers are expected to reject a

new offer from COSLA on Monday to cleansing staff in a bid to halt industrial action.

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It comes as council waste workers are set to return to “business as usual” on Tuesday morning after the walkout which started on August 18, as overflowing bins have sparked

Rubbish piled high in Edinburgh city centre during strike action
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warnings that rubbish is a “risk to human health”.

Unions previously rejected a 3.5 per cent ‘paltry’ offer and turned down 5 per cent as not enough in the face of inflation and the cost of living crisis.

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But workers from waste services and school cleansing teams told the Evening News they won’t back down unless they get ‘fair’ pay in the dispute.

The workers said they expect any offer under £3,000 to be rejected and called for any rise to be capped to make sure those in lowest-paid jobs benefit.

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Read More
Edinburgh bin strikes: New offer made to cleansing staff in bid to halt strikes

The leader of Edinburgh Council said on Sunday the mountains of rubbish on its streets has brought “into sharp focus” the value of its waste and cleaning workers.

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As rubbish piles up on the streets, schools staff are next to go on strike.

Hundreds of schools and nurseries are scheduled to close for three days next week as part of the industrial action, with school cleaning staff among workers to strike.

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One school cleaning supervisor said she’s ‘heartbroken’ after workers in her team handed in notice because they couldn’t afford to live on their current wage.

Bernadette, 53, is a cleaning services supervisor for a team of more than 40.

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The mum-of-three said £9.90 an hour is not enough to live on and wants to see a flat rate increase of at least £3000 a year.

"I’ve been out on the picket lines with the bin men all week and we are all behind the strike action.

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“We feel undervalued and underpaid. Bin men, janitors and cleaners all worked throughout the pandemic when hubs were open for key workers children. Yet somehow, we were

not considered to be key workers. It’s sad because I see how hard my staff work.

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“Many have to constantly ask for more overtime just to get by. Yet they get no recognition. And £9.90 an hour is not only unfair, it’s unrealistic in this day and age.

"I’ve had staff hand in their notice in the last week because they can’t manage. I’m heartbroken. It’s the first I’ve seen that in all my years and I’ve been here more than eighteen years.”

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Bernadette, who is also a carer to her disabled husband, is struggling to survive on her pay and fears the situation for council workers like her will get worse as the cost of living crisis hits.

“My bills are going up by more than triple and I’m the only wage earner in my house. It’s frightening. I’m so fed up of the political point scoring. We have both worked all our lives and all we are asking is for a decent, fair wage.

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“If we don't get a resolution this week then we will not hesitate to carry on. This can’t go on.”

Until a pay deal is agreed, a second wave of strike action is due to start from September 7 and run until September 13.

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One waste services worker who asked not to be named said: “We didn’t take the decision to strike lightly.

“I’m really sympathetic to residents and visitors as the rubbish has piled up on the streets. I love this city. But we can’t survive on what we get. With the bills going up it’s a frightening time.

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“I have to drive to work at Bankhead. The fuel is extortionate now and it’s eating up nearly a fifth of my wage, it's very low in the first place.

“There are no extras for us any more, it’s about paying bills and getting by and it’s a constant struggle just to do that.”

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Unite reported that more than half of Scotland’s 250,000 council workers are earning less than £25,000 a year for a 37-hour week.

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