Scotland strikes: Edinburgh waste and street cleaning workers to strike over festival

Hundreds of waste, recycling and street cleaning workers in Edinburgh are to go on strike during the festival amid claims they have been treated with “contempt”.

Trade union leaders warned rubbish will pile up in the streets unless a better pay deal is put on the table.

Local authority workers previously rejected a 2 per cent pay offer from Cosla, the council umbrella body.

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Around 300 members of the Unite and GMB unions will walk out between August 18 and 30, coinciding with the busy festival season during which hundreds of thousands of visitors descend on Edinburgh.

The action will affect waste, recycling and street cleaning services such as bin collections.

Unite said it was finalising strike dates in other council areas, including Aberdeen, Dundee and Glasgow, as part of a planned “second wave” of industrial action, in a co-ordinated bid to persuade the Scottish Government and Cosla to make an improved pay offer.

Strike action in schools across Scotland, meanwhile, is expected to begin in early September.

Cosla has said it is unable to make a better offer without extra funding from the Scottish Government.

It held talks with ministers on Wednesday and a meeting of Cosla’s leadership will take place on Friday.

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “Unite’s members can’t tolerate derisory pay offers any longer from Cosla or the Scottish Government, who ultimately control the purse strings.

"We believe the public of Edinburgh and across Scotland will support our members in taking this stand because no worker should be forced to accept a 'take-it-or-leave-it' real terms pay cut.

"Our members simply have no choice, but to take strike action in their fight for better jobs, pay and conditions.”

Wendy Dunsmore, Unite’s industrial officer, added: “Unite’s members in Edinburgh are now set to take strike action in a matter of days and this will severely impact the Edinburgh International and Fringe festivals.

"The blame for this situation lies squarely with Cosla and the Scottish Government who have continued to undervalue and treat council workers with contempt.

"Professional and hard-working people who turned up to work throughout the pandemic are being told to take a brutal real terms pay cut.

"It’s a shocking example of how those in power are now completely out of touch with working people in this country.”

GMB Scotland organiser Kirsten Muat said: “Waste will pile during the Edinburgh Festival unless a significantly improved pay offer for local government staff is tabled for our members’ consultation.

“When visitors from across the world ask why this is happening, the response will be straightforward – our members are not prepared for local services to be delivered on the backs of the working poor.

“Our key workers deserve to be valued properly and ahead of a grim winter with forecasts of double-digit inflation and eye-watering energy bills, they urgently need pay that confronts this cost-of-living crisis.”

Earlier, Johanna Baxter, Unison Scotland’s head of local government, said Cosla and the Government “need to understand the seriousness of this situation”.

She said: "The joint trade unions who represent local government workers have had extensive discussions to plan and co-ordinate industrial action cross Scotland.

"If council leaders do not substantially improve their pay offer for local government workers Unison, along with Unite and the GMB, will be notifying employers in the coming days of planned long-term disruptive strike action.

"We have already written to Cosla to warn them that the trade unions have between them legal mandates to disrupt the operation of over 1,200 schools across 16 local authorities and the waste/recycling services across 25 local authorities in Scotland.”

Edinburgh City Council leader Cammy Day said: “I’m extremely disappointed that negotiations between Scottish Government, Cosla and the unions have failed to avert this action and would urge all parties to come together to prevent disruption during one of the most important and enjoyable periods in Edinburgh’s calendar.

"I want to assure residents that we’ll be doing all we can to minimise any impact on essential services.

"While, of course, I hope agreement is reached swiftly, our crews deserve to be paid fairly for the work they do, and I once again call on the Scottish Government to properly fund our capital city and its services.”

Deputy First Minister John Swinney said: “Although the Scottish Government has no formal role in the national pay negotiations for local government workers, we are working jointly with Cosla to explore all options available and held constructive discussions with council leaders.

“Local government workers play a crucial role in our communities and are integral to our recovery from the pandemic. I would urge all parties to continue a dialogue and reach a resolution which avoids industrial action.”

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