Council staff strike on day kids go back to school

Strike action by Unison members could cause widespread disruption across the Capital. ''Picture: Neil Hanna
Strike action by Unison members could cause widespread disruption across the Capital. ''Picture: Neil Hanna
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STRIKE action is threatening to spark widespread disruption across the Capital, with council workers set to down tools in a dispute over pay.

Union members from Unison have voted to launch industrial action across Scotland on October 21 – the same day pupils return to school after half-term – after failing to agree a £1 per hour pay hike with city chiefs.

Parents at schools across Edinburgh – including Tollcross Primary, Towerbank Primary and Craiglockart Primary among others – have been informed that campuses will be forced to close if janitors, catering staff and teaching assistants join the walkout.

Strike action may also impact leisure centres as well as a string of other council services including social workers, receptionists and carers.

A spokesman for Unison, which represents 9000 workers in the city, said the strikes would affect “the whole of Edinburgh”.

He said: “We try and keep all avenues open for discussion but as it stands at the moment, this is going ahead.

“Local government workers have taken the brunt of the austerity cuts.

“Over the last two years local government workers have had a one per cent pay rise, which is well below the rate of inflation. Our demands are fair pay for all workers and an end to low pay, and for employers to get back round the table to discuss the big issues facing local government.”

Unison has fought for a £1 per hour pay rise and for workers to be paid the living wage – a rate calculated annually to reflect the basic cost of living.

While council refused to accept the salary increase, the city has paid its staff the living wage since 2013, which is set at £7.65. The UK minimum wage is £6.50.

Employers have not yet been officially informed that strikes will take place but a city council spokesman confirmed they were preparing to cope with industrial action. “We will be putting in place appropriate contingencies to ensure council services continue to be delivered,” said a spokesman.

The planned strike has been condemned as “disruptive” by Tory councillor Iain Whyte, who warned a pay rise could have damaging consequences for public services.

Cllr Whyte, who sits on the city’s finance committee, said: “Potentially it is very disruptive to parents who have already made their holiday plans and it may be difficult for them to make new arrangements after having a week off.

“I am more concerned that Unison are taking this attitude about pay when they should be well aware of the financial constraints the council is under. While I can understand the frustration for people who have had minimal pay rises for some time, in the long term higher pay could mean fewer jobs and poorer services for the public.”

He called for Unison to exempt services which protect the most vulnerable from the action.

Marco Biagi, SNP Edinburgh Central MSP, said strike action must be avoided if possible.

He said: “There is a very strong sense of urgency to get everyone around the table and sort this out. Anything that could head off strike action to mutual gain must be welcomed.”

A nationwide strike planned for Tuesday by GMB, Unison and Unite unions was suspended for negotiations.

lizzy.buchan@edinburghnews.com