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Edinburgh waste workers ‘very angry’ as strike begins across the city

Council workers take part in a rally outside the city chambers in Edinburgh (Andrew Milligan/PA)
Council workers take part in a rally outside the city chambers in Edinburgh (Andrew Milligan/PA)

Cleansing workers in Edinburgh have begun a strike which is due to last for 11 days during the busy festival season, with a union organiser saying staff are “very angry” at the current pay offer.

On Thursday, picket lines were organised at waste and recycling centres across the capital and a rally was held outside the city chambers.

Workers have rejected a formal pay offer from councils body Cosla of 3.5%.

The strike, organised by Unite and the GMB, comes as unions representing council staff across Scotland threaten further industrial action over pay.

Rail Strikes
Waste workers marched through the city to join an RMT gathering at Waverley Station (Andrew Milligan/PA)

The waste and recycling worker strike in Edinburgh began formally at 5am on Thursday.

Speaking at the city chambers, Unite branch convener Graeme Smith told the PA news agency: “Staff are feeling very angry about the pay offer. We were being offered 2% originally, which is an insult.

“Cosla then came back five months later and increased that to 3.5%. Again, not something we could even consider taking to the members during the cost-of-living crisis. So there’s a lot of anger.”

He said rubbish was already piling up in the Royal Mile and household pick-ups would not take place during the strike, with recycling centres also closed to the public.

Cleansing workers strike
Union organisers say waste will pile up (Andrew Milligan/PA)

Mr Smith continued: “Inevitably, the waste will pile up.

“There’s a huge impact, it’s a significant action for significant times.

“Members can’t put food on the table. Come winter, they’ll be choosing between heating and eating.

“So that’s why we’ve been forced to take such dire measures.”

Edinburgh council leader Cammy Day attended the rally outside the city chambers on Thursday in support of the striking workers.

He said: “There will be disruption. The council and trade unions have agreed some services will continue for life and limb or emergencies but primarily communal waste and individual waste bins won’t be collected for the next two weeks.”

Cleansing workers strike
Edinburgh council’s leader has called for an earlier Cosla meeting (Andrew Milligan/PA)

He said the council had published advice on storing waste at home while the strike was ongoing.

Asked what he was doing to resolve the dispute, Mr Day said he had written to the Deputy First Minister and called for an earlier meeting of Cosla to discuss a new pay offer.

The Labour councillor said: “Of course, we will try and find more money.

“But it needs the Government and Cosla to get around the table and find a solution to this as quickly as possible.”

A recovery plan would be put in place to return the city to normal after the strike’s conclusion, he said.

Cleansing workers strike
The strike began formally at 5am (Andrew Milligan/PA)

Mr Day added: “None of us want strike action, but when we’ve got a Government failing to meet the demands of the workforce and Cosla leaders stretched for cash across every local authority in Scotland, we need them all to get around the table and find a solution.”

Following the rally outside the city chambers, the cleansing workers marched through the city centre to join another picket line at Waverley station – where the RMT union held another gathering as part of a separate industrial dispute.

Earlier, Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “Unite’s local government representatives have rejected the paltry offer of 3.5% from Cosla.

“The offer is nowhere near good enough.

“Council leaders across Scotland including Edinburgh and Glasgow are publicly on the record acknowledging this reality, so why should our members even consider it?”

Strikes across 14 other local authorities in Scotland are expected to follow from August 24 until August 31.

A spokesperson for the Scottish Government said: “As the employers, these pay negotiations are a matter for local authorities and unions – the Scottish Government has no formal role.

“We urge Cosla to urgently reconsider its position and match the Scottish Government’s additional £140 million that would be required to increase the pay offer to 5%.

“The Scottish Government must balance a fixed budget with very significant competing demands as a consequence of the cost-of-living crisis and the inaction of the UK Government.

“The main tax levers are set for the whole year and cannot be changed. With no power to borrow for this spend, the extra £140 million has got to come from somewhere else within the budget and no more funding can be offered.”

Cosla reiterated its statement from Friday. Resources spokeswoman Katie Hagmann said: “Leaders have reaffirmed their aspiration to make an offer greater than the initial 2% but note the risk that public services will not recover, jobs will be affected and communities will see services reduced as local government budgets are unable to sustain the long term pressures they have been under.

“Leaders continue to call on the Scottish Government to provide funding and flexibilities to enable an offer beyond the monies provided to date.

“As such, we will be seeking to make an improved offer via the appropriate negotiating mechanisms as soon as possible.”