Unions warn of ‘winter of discontent’ as council strike spreads across Scotland

Cleansing staff in 14 local authority areas are now taking action as part of the dispute over pay.

Katrine Bussey
Wednesday 24 August 2022 10:15 BST
Strike action by waste workers, which has seen rubbish pile up in Edinburgh, has now spread to other parts of Scotland (Jane Barlow/PA)
Strike action by waste workers, which has seen rubbish pile up in Edinburgh, has now spread to other parts of Scotland (Jane Barlow/PA)

Scotland is facing a “winter of discontent” if the Scottish Government fails to resolve the councils pay dispute, unions have warned.

Wendy Dunsmore of Unite said the unions were “here for the long haul” as industrial action, which has already seen litter pile up on the streets of Edinburgh, spread to other parts of Scotland.

Cleansing staff in the Scottish capital have been out on strike since August 18, with the action timed to coincide with the Edinburgh festivals.

Waste workers in 13 other local authorities, including Glasgow, Dundee and Aberdeen, are now also taking action, while schools in some areas could be forced to close next month if staff there join the walkout.

Speaking about the protest, taking place after the unions rejected a revised 5% pay offer funded in part with £140 million of Scottish Government cash, Ms Dunsmore said: “Our first wave was in Edinburgh, the second wave is waste across Scotland, our third wave is going to be schools.

We’re looking for a winter of discontent, even though we’re just approaching autumn.

Wendy Dunsmore, Unite

“And it may not stop at schools, we’re in here for the long haul.”

Speaking on BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland she added: “Our members are demanding a better pay rise, and who knows where we are going to go next?

“We’re looking for a winter of discontent, even though we’re just approaching autumn.”

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has already made clear the Scottish Government does not have a “bottomless pit of money” to resolve the dispute.

But Ms Dunsmore insisted ministers needed to find more cash, as she called on the Scottish Government to at least match the £1,925 pay offer that has been made to council workers in the rest of the UK.

The 5% rise offered to local government staff in Scotland will see workers receive an average of about £900 more a year, she claimed.

Any rise needs to give “proper recognition that there is a crisis out there for low-paid workers”, Ms Dunsmore insisted.

She said: “Our members are being offered on average of £900. That’s less than half of what is being offered elsewhere.

“Now a Tory Government is offering our workers down south nearly £2,000, I don’t think it’s a bad ask for the Scottish Government to at least match that.”

Bins overflowing with litter along Princes Street in Edinburgh city centre (Jane Barlow/PA) (PA Wire)

Unions have now written to John Swinney, urging him to intervene – with Ms Dunsmore saying they wanted “urgent meetings” with the Deputy First Minister.

She said: “We don’t want strikes, but it is down to the Scottish Government to stop these strikes.

“There is an impact but that’s not an impact because of the workers, that’s because there is a shortage of funding to the Scottish local authorities. This lands at the Scottish Government.”

In the Scottish capital, which has seen its streets strewn with litter and bins overflowing, council leader Cammy Day said he was “disappointed” a deal was not reached.

The First Minister warned that finances are not a ‘bottomless pit’ (Jane Barlow/PA (PA Wire)

“This is a national crisis playing out in Edinburgh’s streets during our busiest and most important time of the year,” he said.

“And while this clearly shows the value of our waste teams’ work, it also demonstrates a national failure to find an acceptable resolution.”

As well as the action by waste workers, the strike is set to spread to school and nursery staff in nine council areas set to go on strike next month.

Unions Unison and the GMB have said their members will walk out between September 6 and 8, a move that will see schools, early years centres and nurseries disrupted in Aberdeenshire, East Renfrewshire, Glasgow City, Inverclyde, Orkney, North Lanarkshire, South Lanarkshire and Stirling.

Local government minister Ben Macpherson said the Scottish Government wanted to find solutions, but had a ‘finite’ budget. (Lesley Martin/PA)

Local government minister Ben Macpherson however said there was “no formal role” for the Scottish Government in the dispute, pointing out the talks were with the local government body Cosla.

And while he said ministers were “working collaboratively with Cosa” he too was clear the Scottish Government had a “finite” budget.

Mr Macpherson told BBC Radio Scotland: “We all want to resolve this situation, that is why the Scottish Government is in constructive dialogue with Cosla on a regular basis, a daily basis.

“But we also need to recognise the Scottish Government budget is finite as well, we cannot change taxation mid-financial year, we do not have the borrowing powers of a normal government.”

He said: “It’s a fact of the devolution settlement the Scottish Government has limited resources and limited powers, but we will continue to engage constructively with Cosla because we all want to find solutions here, and that is where our focus will remain.”

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