Edinburgh bin strikes: Edinburgh council accused of being 'asleep at the wheel' as rubbish piles up in city

Edinburgh’s council administration has been accused of being “asleep at the wheel” whilst rubbish piles up across the city, as strikes look to continue until the end of the month.

It comes after Unite, the largest union of local government staff in the capital, said it would not take the latest “vague” five per cent pay offer to its members, calling on council leaders to provide “specifics and guarantees” about the proposed increase.

SNP group leader Councillor Adam McVey said it is vital for leaders to make a more detailed offer “as soon as possible”.

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Talks are set to continue on Tuesday (August 23) amid ongoing strike action by waste collection and street cleansing staff, which has seen the city’s streets strewn with litter at the busiest time of year – prompting council bosses to urge residents to hold onto their bin bags until after the strikes.

Edinburgh is on its sixth day of bin strikes

Unions are said to be more interested in discussing a ‘flat cash’ proposal rather than talking percentages, and are pushing for Cosla, the umbrella body for Scottish local authorities, to offer a £3,000 raise to all workers, equating to a greater increase for the lowest paid.

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Edinburgh bin strike: hope that talks today can pave way for settlement

However, an agreement is yet to be reached on how the latest offer would be funded; Edinburgh’s Labour administration has argued the responsibility lies with the Scottish Government, whilst Councillor McVey said the council already has the funds – including a share of £140m announced recently by the Government – to offer workers a 4.5 per cent increase.

He added: “We would only be half a per cent away – only a few million pounds .

Bins are full and people have been urged to take their rubbish home with them

“In the grand scheme of a budget of a billion, a few million pounds is findable within the council.”

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The ex-council leader said he “is happy to support additional conversations” with party colleagues at Holyrood.

He added: “In Edinburgh we’ve seen an absolute dearth of leadership, we’ve seen nobody willing to grapple with these issues.

“We’ve seen Labour councillors only really willing to get their photograph taken but not really willing to do anything in terms of substantive conversations with our trade union colleagues about what they need.

Rubbish is piling up and litter is scattered across many city centre streets
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“Edinburgh has basically just been asleep at the wheel letting this situation develop.”

Edinburgh council leader Cammy Day said: “It’s disappointing that strike action will continue as the discussions have not been progressed and these will happen when unions and COSLA meet again.

“I believe that our council colleagues have the right to be paid fairly.

“I’m continuing to push hard for a resolution as quickly as possible. We also need to carry on pressing the Scottish Government to give us more flexibility on how we use our resources and as well as providing fairer funding for our services.

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“I’d like to thank everyone for their patience as the strike continues and please continue to follow our advice on how to deal with your waste safely and responsibly to help us manage the impact of the strike action.”

Labour councillor Ross McKenzie, who has joined picket lines this week in solidarity with those choosing to strike, said he understood following conversations with workers that the five per cent offer “wasn’t up for discussion at all”.

He added: “This is breadline stuff for a lot of those workers, this is the difference between what they’re eating and what energy they’re using. They seem very serious to me about continuing the action until they get a pay that they can live on.

“The workers talked a lot about other issues other than pay, like the average age of the workforce, the huge use of agency staff, deteriorating conditions, higher workloads, less boots on the ground and poor management culture.

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“The dispute is about pay but the workers and the service they provide is at breaking point after a decade of cuts.

“It’s a national negotiation and it’s the Scottish Government that needs to show leadership and bring forward a funding package that gets this moving.”

Alison Maclean, Unite industrial officer, said: “Unite’s local government committee has reaffirmed that the strike action ongoing in Edinburgh and scheduled to take place in a further 14 councils continues as planned.

“There remains insignificant detail on the five per cent pay offer, and what this in reality means for the lowest paid workers. At this moment the offer from COSLA remains a vague aspirational pledge but Unite can’t take anything to our wider membership unless we have specifics and guarantees.”