School staff set to walk out amid warning bin strikes could continue beyond winter
Waste has been piling up on the streets of Edinburgh since a 12-day strike kicked off last week, with refuse workers in 13 other councils across Scotland now set to join the action from Wednesday.
Union leaders warned “months of massive nationwide disruption” could lie ahead.
Meanwhile, schools and nurseries in local authorities such as Glasgow could be forced to shut for three days next month as staff walk out over the same pay row.
Talks between Cosla, the council umbrella body in Scotland, and trade union leaders took place all day on Tuesday but failed to make progress.
Both sides will now ask the Scottish Government to intervene and stump up more cash for local authorities.
Nicola Sturgeon said the Government does not have a “bottomless pit of money”.
The First Minister said she wants to “see the fairest possible pay deal delivered to public sector workers in very difficult times” and also wants “to see industrial action avoided”.
But she said the Government “has a finite budget” and has already given councils £140 million “to help fund a fair pay deal”.
She said: “There isn’t a bottomless pit of money here, but we will continue to work with trade unions and with local authorities to try to find a way forward.”
Unite confirmed its members in waste services will go on strike across 13 more councils, including Glasgow, Dundee and Aberdeen, from Wednesday.
It said the 5 per cent offer put forward by Cosla represented a pay rise of between £900 and £1,250 for more than half of local government workers, compared to a £1,925 flat rate pay offer for council workers in England.
The union’s Wendy Dunsmore said: “Unite has rejected outright the 5 per cent pay offer and strike action across 14 councils will go ahead. It’s a sad indictment that council workers in Scotland are being offered substantially less than their counterparts in England.
“The cold hard reality is that inflation and energy costs are soaring – and they are predicted to rise even higher.
"The 5 per cent today will not be worth the same in a matter of months when the cost of living crisis will bite even harder. The offer on the table just doesn’t help the lowest paid make ends meet.
“This dispute will continue to escalate to a point where it could now go beyond the winter causing months of massive nationwide disruption. The blame for this will lie squarely at the doors of Cosla and the Scottish Government.”
A further seven councils, including North Lanarkshire, Stirling and Midlothian, will be hit by bin strikes from August 26, and more action is planned next month.
Meanwhile, Unison and the GMB trade union said janitors, cleaners, caterers and pupil support assistants in schools and nurseries will go on strike on September 6, 7 and 8, just three weeks into the school term.
The councils affected by the planned school strikes are Aberdeenshire, Clackmannanshire, East Renfrewshire, Glasgow City, Inverclyde, Orkney, North Lanarkshire, Stirling and South Lanarkshire.
A spokeswoman for Glasgow City Council said “a decision will be taken” on whether schools and nurseries will be able to stay open on the affected days.
She said: “We will let families know as soon as possible if the decision is to close the schools so that they are able to make alternative arrangements.”
Pictures of the Edinburgh’s rubbish-strewn streets have been widely shared on social media and there are warnings of an explosion in the population of rats and other vermin.
Edinburgh City Council leader Cammy Day said: “This is a national crisis playing out in Edinburgh’s streets during our busiest and most important time of the year. And while this clearly shows the value of our waste teams’ work, it also demonstrates a national failure to find an acceptable resolution.
“With strike action set to begin in councils across Scotland from tomorrow, we need the Scottish Government to get back round the table.
“I’ve written to Nicola Sturgeon today to invite her to join me and the Unions for a walk around the city centre to see first-hand the impact this is having on our capital city – the driving force of the Scottish economy.
“I want to thank our residents for bearing with us and for following our guidance, particularly around storing their waste.”
It is understood the action across schools and waste services will be the largest strike among council workers since the Trade Union Act was introduced in 2016.
Johanna Baxter, Unison Scotland’s head of local government, said it is “a long way from a pay offer that we would be able to recommend to our members”.
She said: “Cosla negotiated within the cost envelope that leaders mandated them but that simply isn’t enough and goes nowhere near matching the pay offer provided to council workers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
“The only thing that both parties could agree on is that we need the urgent intervention from the Deputy First Minister to put additional funding in place and both will be writing to the Deputy First Minister to that effect today.”
GMB Scotland senior organiser Keir Greenaway said: “The fact that Cosla couldn’t even commit to the basic principle of a flat rate offer which would help the lowest paid is bitterly disappointing and frankly shameful.”
He added: “Our members are angry about the lack of value being shown to them by political leaders and scared about the prospect of pay that doesn’t confront a cost-of-living crisis that’s getting worse by the week.
“Cosla leaders meet again on Friday, and they have got to do so much better, because until our members concerns are addressed, strikes will continue, and they will grow.”
A Cosla spokesman described Tuesday’s talks as “constructive and a productive”.
Local Government Secretary Shona Robison said: “The increased pay offer to local government workers by councils is a welcome step forward and has been supported by the Scottish Government’s commitment of an additional £140 million for council workers' pay on a recurring basis.
“As the employers, these pay negotiations are a matter for local authorities and unions – the Scottish Government has no formal role.
"However, throughout discussions we have sought to work collaboratively with Cosla while providing full transparency around our financial position.
"The Scottish Government strongly encourages local authorities and trades unions to take forward and while this is happening for strike action not to take place.
“All areas of the public sector are having to make challenging savings to stay within budget.
"The UK Government has cut the Scottish Government’s budget and not adjusted it for inflation, exacerbating the financial situation for both government and councils.
"Nevertheless, we have sought to do what we can within the resources available to us to support a meaningful revised offer in the face of the cost of living emergency.”
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