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Rubbish on the streets of Edinburgh

Andy Archibald
Blog Edinburgh Rubbish [Converted]
© Adobe Stock


For those who are getting excited to visit the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in August this year, get ready for a world-leading celebration of theatre, comedy, dance, physical theatre, circus, cabaret, children's shows, musicals, opera, music, spoken word, exhibitions, and events.

And piles and piles of uncollected rubbish lining the streets.

That’s because the now seemingly bi-annual deadlock between the bin collectors and the local government body responsible for pay negotiations, Cosla, has begun this week. Bin collectors, represented in the negotiations by trade unions, have rejected a pay increase proposal from Cosla and confirmed their intention to go on strike at the time the world’s largest performance arts festival takes place in the Scottish capital.

Two years ago, a bin strike was held for 12 days during the Festival, leading to a huge backlog of waste littering the streets of Edinburgh. Following sustained media coverage and widespread embarrassment over the situation, Nicola Sturgeon, the then First Minister of Scotland, stepped in and gave in to all demands tabled by the bin collectors to make the problem go away. An example of the Edinburgh streets at that time:



Except, the problem didn’t go away. Because now the trade unions negotiating for the bin collectors know all too well that if they push the right buttons – strike during the Festival – Cosla or the government will probably give in again and they’ll get everything they want. And the same will keep happening.

The challenge for Cosla is they don’t have the power to stop the strike if they don’t reach an agreement. But that doesn’t mean they are completely powerless in the situation. Cosla know the bin collectors want better pay and this is a concession they can make. The key question is do they give it away for free and encourage the unions to keep coming back for more; or make it conditional and get some value in return.

There is a proposal on the table to increase pay 4.2%, staggered over time and valid for 18 months. The response from the unions has been that “it’s not a strong offer”. (For everyone who has done our training, they’ll know that this is not a no; it’s a Signal.)

From the trade unions' point of view, if the proposal received isn’t acceptable, state specifically what would be agreeable, ensuring it’s realistic, and stop asking the other side to guess. Being specific and realistic about what you want is always going to be more effective than being vague and asking the other side to make a proposal.

From Cosla’s point of view, ask some good questions to understand what’s not strong about the proposal. Is it the way their proposal has been presented (i.e. split over 18 months) or is it not enough (if 4.2% is not enough, what is?). And provided it’s realistic, make a further proposal that addresses the objections, gives the bin collectors what they (again, provided it’s realistic) and most importantly, is clear on the conditions that Cosla will get in return.

This last bit is hard. Most negotiators are usually pretty good at giving away concessions but not so good at applying conditions to get value in return. In this situation, calling off the strike would be a good place to start for Cosla. Agreeing to a period where there will be no requests for better pay, or negotiate any future changes now to avoid this annual/bi-annual merry go round might also be of value to Cosla. And agreeing realistic performance measures and consequences for non-compliance might also be of value, amongst many other things.

Ideally, we’ll see progress to break the deadlock over the coming days that doesn’t involve Cosla and the Government giving in again. That way, all parties can be satisfied, including everyone visiting the Festival enjoying a rubbish-free time. 

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