Edinburgh households may not have rubbish backlog cleared before next wave of strike action begins

Some Edinburgh residents will not have all of their backlog of waste collected before a second wave of strike action begins in September as council workers return to a “business as usual” schedule when the walk-out ends on Tuesday morning.

A member of the public walks past a bin and litter in Victoria Street in Edinburgh city centre.
A member of the public walks past a bin and litter in Victoria Street in Edinburgh city centre.

Bin collections are due to resume when the strike ends its final day on Monday – two days before refuse workers at 13 more Scottish councils begin strike action on Wednesday. A second wave of strike action is due to start from 7 September and run until 13 September, unless talks between unions and local authorities agree a pay deal.

Edinburgh City Council said that while additional resources are being deployed to support street cleansing and communal bin collections, it is understood that workers will return to ordinary shift patterns for residential collections from Tuesday – with no extra staff or resources brought in from outside.

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Many residents in Edinburgh are on a fortnightly bin collection schedule – alternating landfill and recycling – and therefore will only have one type of waste collected before the next strike action begins. Householders have described being forced to store bin bags in their bath tubs as they struggle to deal with ten days of strikes.

Blue box glass collections will also continue to be suspended indefinitely as the council works to deal with the backlog of rubbish piled on the city streets.

From Wednesday, staff at 13 local authorities, including Glasgow, Dundee, and Aberdeen, will join those in the capital and strike as unions ratchet up the pressure in their pay dispute – unless an agreement is reached.

Talks between local authority umbrella body Cosla and unions continued over the weekend.

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Fears over public health risks have been raised as the rubbish – including food waste, soiled nappies and dog poo – continued to build up on Edinburgh’s streets. Residents have branded the state of the city a “disgrace” as thousands of visitors turned up to experience shows at the Fringe and other festivals.

Council leader Cammy Day admitted that bins may not be picked up on schedule and urged residents to leave them out on the street, where they would be “picked up as soon as possible thereafter”.

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He said: "I regret the impact this national crisis has had on our Capital city and am continuing to press the Scottish Government to fund an acceptable settlement. Talks are continuing over the weekend and I’m hopeful we can reach agreement and prevent any further disruption. As I’ve said throughout, I fully respect the right of our colleagues to take this action and have their voices heard. As a trade union member myself, I’ve joined the picket lines in support of fair pay for our workforce and will do so again.

“This dispute has brought the value of our waste and cleansing teams – and their right to fair wage – into sharp focus and I’m delighted they’ll be back out from Tuesday, helping to return our city to its best.”

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He added: “While they’ll be working hard to catch up on collections and making every effort to collect litter across the city, it’ll take time for things to return to normal. Please bear with them as they do so and, if you can store your extra waste safely for a little longer or are able to book an appointment at a recycling centre, please do so.”

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“I appreciate that this has been an extremely challenging period for us all and I would like to thank our residents, businesses and visitors for their continued patience and understanding.”

A statement published on Edinburgh Council’s website at the start of the strike assured residents that a “detailed clean up plan” will be put in place when the strike ends.

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The council website stated: “We understand the impact and inconvenience this will cause you and appreciate your patience and understanding. We’re developing a detailed recovery plan so the clean-up can begin immediately following the strike.”

A "plan B” to divert workers from other parts of the council had been mooted before the strikes, but was not implemented amid fears it breached strike laws. Meanwhile, last week, the creation of an emergency council task force was agreed to look at clearing rubbish in places where there is a "public health risk" during the strike – however, it is understood that once the strike is over, only ordinary bin collections will take place.

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Unions rejected a five per cent wage increase earlier this week, which they branded “insulting”. More talks between Cosla and the unions were expected to resume on Sunday afternoon. Union Unite has said any offer needed to match the £1,925 rise given to government workers in other parts of the UK. They said for more than half of council workers, Cosla’s offer represented a rise of between £900 to £1,250.

Last week, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said Holyrood did not have a “bottomless pit of money” and insisted she wanted to “see the fairest possible pay deal delivered to public sector workers in very difficult times”. She added that the government had already given councils £140 million “to help fund a fair pay deal”.