Exclusive:Edinburgh businesses and residents urged to lobby politicians to avert Fringe bin strike

Union leaders wants councillors, MPs and MSPs to intervene

Business and residents in Edinburgh are being urged to lobby politicians to “get round the negotiating table” to head off the threat of a rubbish collection strike during the city’s peak summer festivals season.

Union leaders want councillors, MPs and MSPs to help head off the prospect of strike action during the Fringe.

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They have insisted that planned action could be avoided if politicians “can show some gumption” rather than “sleepwalking” into a strike for the second time in the space of three summers.

The GMB Union, which claims the Scottish Government “refuses to come to the negotiating table, has warned that rubbish will be left to “pile up” on streets across the country - with action “likely” to be taken during the Fringe, as it was in 2022 - if an improved pay offer is not made.

However, in an open letter to Edinburgh businesses and residents, the union said everyone in the city was reliant on the services of waste workers who were doing “backbreaking work” in stretched services for low pay.

Members of both the GMB and Unite unions have voted for strike action after rejecting a pay offer which local government body Cosla insists is at “the limits of affordability for councils.”

Cosla, which has raised concerns about the “potential public health risks” of strike action, has been accused of “needlessly” drawing out negotiations, refusing to have “meaningful” talks and blocking any government intervention.

Overflowing bin on Edinburgh's Royal Mile during the final week of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2022. Picture: Katielee ArrowsmithOverflowing bin on Edinburgh's Royal Mile during the final week of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2022. Picture: Katielee Arrowsmith
Overflowing bin on Edinburgh's Royal Mile during the final week of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2022. Picture: Katielee Arrowsmith

The government insists it has no “formal role” as the pay negotiations are a matter for councils and the unions. However it has urged “all parties involved to work together constructively and reach an agreement which is fair for the workforce and affordable for employers.”

In his open letter, GMB Scotland senior organiser Keir Greenaway, who lives in Edinburgh, said: “Residents only have to live with this disruption for as long as the strike action lasts.

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"Our members in waste have to work under stretched services doing backbreaking work for low pay all year round.

"They’re not taking strike action without a sacrifice of their own. Every day our members strike they lose a day’s pay.

Rubbish quickly piled up on Edinburgh's streets during previous industrial action during the Fringe in 2022. Picture: Lisa FergusonRubbish quickly piled up on Edinburgh's streets during previous industrial action during the Fringe in 2022. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
Rubbish quickly piled up on Edinburgh's streets during previous industrial action during the Fringe in 2022. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

"Businesses have endured an arduous cost-of-living crisis which has pushed many to the brink and others to close. Those same pressures are being felt by our members. They’ve been given below inflation pay rises for years despite the work they did during the pandemic to protect public health.”Strike action does not need to go ahead. Politicians can show some gumption and get round the negotiating table instead of sleepwalking into more strikes.

"There is still time. My plea to all residents and businesses is to join us. Write to your councillors, MSPs and MPs. Demand improved services. Demand an improved pay offer. Demand better from our political leaders and for our city.”

In 2022, 12 days of strikes involving workers in waste services, including cleansing and refuse collection, led to mountains of rubbish piling up on the streets of Edinburgh across the capital’s showcase festivals.

The strike spread to other council areas, including Aberdeen, Dundee and Glasgow, under a “second wave” of industrial action. However further industrial was called off after then First Minister Nicola Sturgeon chaired pay talks which led to a new pay offer being accepted.

Rubbish quickly piled up on Edinburgh's streets during previous industrial action during the Fringe in 2022. Picture: Lisa FergusonRubbish quickly piled up on Edinburgh's streets during previous industrial action during the Fringe in 2022. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
Rubbish quickly piled up on Edinburgh's streets during previous industrial action during the Fringe in 2022. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

Liz McAreavey, chief executive of Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce, said: “Our members are very keen to see this dispute resolved at the earliest opportunity.

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"The eyes of the world will be on our city during the festivals. They’re a vital trading period for thousands of businesses in the city’s essential visitor, hospitality and retail sectors, which in turn support tens of thousands of workers.

"These are sectors which are still recovering and for whom trading conditions remain fragile. More barriers to trade might be very damaging.

“The timing of this dispute again appears to be aimed at inflicting maximum disruption, following the 12-day action two years ago, which caused significant problems.

“Workers should, of course, be fairly rewarded for the work that they do. One factor in that must be affordability. It is for local authorities to speak on that issue.

"But both sides would do well to remember that businesses contribute billions to the Scottish economy every year through taxation – in Edinburgh alone hundreds of millions are raised in business rates – and are entitled to expect the core services they help to fund are delivered.”

Garry Clark, development manager at the Federation of Small Businesses, said: “Businesses will appreciate the fact that the GMB has taken the time to respond to their concerns over the potential for another bin strike in the city.

"We know all too well from the last strike that if this goes ahead the result will be another appalling mess and stench in the heart of our city and World Heritage Site at a time when Edinburgh is highly visible on a global scale.

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"We urge both parties to get round the table urgently and resolve this dispute before further harm is done to local businesses, and to the reputation of the city and our festivals.”

Roddy Smith, chief executive of city centre business group Essential Edinburgh, said: “Its not for me to comment on a negotiation between employers and workers.

“But August is a vital month for the city’s economy and striking at this time, which is the unions’ absolute right, will cause maximum disruption to our city.

"The visitor economy and the August festivals are too important for the city and its reputation to be tarnished like it was two years ago. I very much hope this strike can be avoided.”

A spokeswoman for the Fringe Society, which oversees the annual festival, said: “We’re aware of the potential industrial action proposed by members of GMB Scotland which may impact waste and cleansing across the city during August.

"We support the rights of workers to engage in collective action. We would urge Cosla and the council to seek an urgent resolution that is mutually beneficial to workers, residents and the city before the summer festival season.”

Council leader Cammy Day said: “My priority is delivering good-quality public services for the people of Edinburgh all year round but clearly we want to prevent a repeat of the disruption two years ago.

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“We’ll be developing detailed contingency plans ahead of any potential strike action to minimise disruption to council services should it go ahead.

"I would strongly urge the Scottish Government and Cosla to work with the unions to find a solution.”

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