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Escalation suspended for 'window of opportunity'
UNISON decided last week to suspend escalation of the five month pay action, after an 11th hour approach from the employers direct to UNISON gave a 'window of opportunity' for talks.
But as we went to press, officials warned that if there was no progress, the strikes could escalate in early January.
As well as three one day strikes by all council workers since August, 600 members have been on indefinite strike since 1 November. A further 700 joined them three weeks ago. They will stay out and many more were set to strike before the chance of talks arose. The total still out in Edinburgh is 92.
In making its decision, UNISON's National Disputes Committee recognised the employers' position both with regard to inflation-proofing the current offer and a guarantee of inflation-plus pay awards in future years.
The employers have also said that negotiations could be weighted towards the lower paid - an objective which UNISON has been fighting for for many years.
The Committee expressed strong support for the industrial action and will meet in early January and look positively at the call for escalation should talks break down.
Matt Smith, UNISON's Scottish Secretary, called on CoSLA to re-open negotiations immediately.
"The ball is now clearly with the Employers' Side. I have written to Pat Watters, the Employers' Side leading negotiator, calling for urgent talks. We are long past time for a settlement".
Leading negotiator and Edinburgh Branch Secretary Dougie Black said, "We welcome the opportunity of talks but they will only succeed if the employers understand the need to be constructive and not just go over old ground."
Members in 'bin the offer' protest
A group of members acted angrily to letters from the chief executive implementing the rejected pay offer by binning the letters at the Mound.
The demonstration took place just before Edinburgh's Christmas lights were switched on.
But despite their anger, members were clear that they were determined not to be 'Scrooge' at Christmas and called on the council to do the same.
Reaction came in from all parts of the council as the UNISON office phones rang off the hook with members furious that the council had ignored the talks with ACAS and had gone ahead top implement not only a disputed rise for this year, but for next year as well.
The branch has sent a letter to all affected members outlining UNISON's position. That is:
Alongside these letters, many members have received letters making highly dubious statements about the selective strikes, especially in relation to alleged 'break in service". UNISON's advice is clear, there is no break of service due to strikes. After all, how can you be on strike in the council if you are not employed by it?
If it's in the NEWS it might not be right!
Recent editorials in the Evening News have been a bit over the top on hitting out at UNISON.
The press has every right to make fair comment, but the News consistently has problems getting its facts right.
So we'll try telling them again. The offer is 6.11% over TWO years, that is 3% this year and 3% next year, with NO weighting for the lower paid.
86% of members in a BALLOT in Edinburgh rejected this offer.
If the selective strikes aren't biting, why is CoSLA so desperate?
Over 90 Edinburgh strikers meeting last week were furious at a CoSLA letter, exposed by the Evening News, that calls on councils to create public fear by publicising a 'worst possible scenario' of the effects of UNISON's action.
"We will certainly not be Scrooge this Christmas and we will genuinely try to avoid any unnecessary impact on Hogmanay festivities. We are asking the Council to do the same", said John Stevenson, Edinburgh UNISON Vice Chair.
"But we are now worried that the CoSLA letter betrays a strategy to risk services just to get UNISON a bad press".
UNISON say their targeted areas in Edinburgh for indefinite strike were designed to put pressure on finances, senior managers and councillors.
They say the Council knew it would get little public sympathy in these areas.
"The Council then began to undermine our action by using agencies and by threatening other staff. They knew we would be forced into areas that would affect the public directly and they were prepared to take that risk with services. The CoSLA letter seems to suggest they welcome this as a chance to turn the public against UNISON".
"By their intransigence, the Councils are the ones playing roulette with council services."
"Let us not forget, it was the councils who walked away from the talks with ACAS. Let us not forget that the Scottish Executive have said a solution is possible, more and more councils are saying a solution is possible.
UNISON believes a solution is possible. Only CoSLA seemed to be stuck in 'NO' mode. We can only hope now that new talks will be possible to bring a resolution."
The real effects of the strikes
Make no mistake about it, UNISON's action in Edinburgh is biting - and we are managing this without dramatic effects on the public.
It is biting to an extent that the Council has been bringing in Agency strike-breakers and threatening other members with suspension if they do not cover for the strikers' work.
UNISON's response has been to be ready to pull these staff out on strike if they are suspended.
Here is a quick tour of the action.
Cash Collection Staff, Finance Dept.
Affecting receipt of payments like Council tax and major financial transactions.
At least £15 million held up and Council panicking to the extent of getting Scott & Co to handle mail. Scott & Co being boycotted.
Planning Reception: Impacting on planning applications and major building developments and hit Council income.
Front Counter/Plan Store, Property Management: Planning, Building Control and archive searches of building layouts disrupted. Developers and Builders will be hit, putting pressure on the Council.
Corporate Secretarial Services, City Development
Directorate: Creating crisis in management and delivery of planning, transportation, building control and economic development.
Building Support Staff, Council HQ: Disrupting a range of work across the council and affecting public access.
Building Support Staff, City Chambers: Council meetings affected. Loss of income from lets.
Licensing Section, Legal Services: Disrupting all licensing applications, eg liquor, entertainment, street trading and taxis.
District Court Admin Staff: One court closed. Affects collection of fines including road traffic penalties. Loss of income to Council.
Security, Chesser House: resulted in hooters being brought in to announce closing time!
Housing Cash Collection and the 200 2000 switchboard workers are the latest groups to be pulled out with obvious effects.
If we need to escalate in January, another 119 members have been identified as ready to come out.
Midlothian and East Lothian refuse collection have gone back to work for the sake of public safety over Christmas - but both branches are to pull out other sections instead.
Strikers lobby Sheriff Officers
Striking Finance and Housing staff lobbied Scott & Co Sheriff Officers to hand in a letter demanding they did not cover their jobs by handling Council mail and cash.
The company handed a letter in return admitting their firm was doing this, but saying it was being handled by a subsidiary and no Sheriff Officers were involved.
Nevertheless, branch officer Kevin Duguid said "I am sure when people write to the Council, especially on sensitive financial matters, they expect that to be seen by the Council and no-one else".
Scotland on Sunday loses the plot
Members may have noticed that sensible and all round nice guy John Stevenson (branch vice chair) was branded by Scotland on Sunday as an 'extremist'.
It also promoted John to "Edinburgh Communication Director for the union" - wonder what the salary is?
And as for its story about the National Committee, well just see the statement from them in this bulletin.
About the only thing right in this story was the spelling of the names. Makes you wonder what else in the paper is a load of tripe too.
The views expressed in UNISON News are not necessarily those of UNISON City of Edinburgh Branch or the union.
All articles/comments to John Stevenson, Communications Officer at 0131 220 5655
P&P by UNISON City of Edinburgh Local Government & Related Sectors Branch, 23 George IV Bridge, Edinburgh EH1 1EN