Edinburgh Council promise end to “back door privatisation”

A news release from North Edinburgh Fights Back & Greater Leith Against the Cuts.

Protests from community anti-cuts groups that Edinburgh Council are privatising cleansing services “through the back door” have led to Councillor Lesley Hinds, on behalf of the governing Labour-SNP coalition, declaring that in future “agency staff will not be used in the cleansing area except in emergency use” and that “I wish to see permanent staff employed in cleansing”.

North Edinburgh Fights Back and Greater Leith Against the Cuts wrote to Council leader Andrew Burns to condemn “the large scale use of agency staff in Street Cleansing and Refuse Collection”. Of the 227 workers in Refuse Collection, 84 are agency staff from Blue Arrow. The community groups pointed out this contradicted the Council decision to reject privatisation and keep these services in-house – a decision which followed a vigorous workers’ and community campaign.

Councillor Hinds, as Convener of the Transport and Environment Committee, wrote to North Edinburgh Fights Back on 1st October. She stated: “I have had several meetings with the Director of Services for Communities and now have an assurance that within the next few weeks, agency staff will not be used in the cleansing area except in emergency use.” She continued: “I had a meeting, at my request, with the shop stewards from UNITE last Friday and we agreed a number of actions we can take to ensure we have permanent staff employed with good terms and conditions.”

A spokesperson from the anti cuts groups said: “We welcome Councillor Hinds’ statement. But her fine words must translate into action. Nothing has changed yet. Over one third of the workers in Refuse Collection are still private contractors. We want to know – when will the new permanent workers be taken on? At least 50 new permanent workers are needed just to replace those who recently left in a Voluntary Early Retirement package. ”

“Director Mark Turley must not be allowed to use the excuse of “emergencies” to justify the long-term use of agency workers. The Edinburgh Festival and bad winter weather are not unforeseen events – the Council must take on enough permanent staff to deal with normal fluctuations in work demands.”

Workers and shop stewards in Cleansing are taking up the sub-standard health and safety practices of the private company. A worker told us: “At least three Blue Arrow workers have been injured recently, catching their hands in the machinery at the back of the lorry. These workers don’t get a proper induction or training, and even have to supply their own protective clothing.” Refuse workers explained to us that much care was needed when the lorries raise the large black street bins, if not affixed properly they could fall off, endangering both workers and any passers-by.

Another worker said: “The Council should be recruiting permanent staff from the unemployed at the Jobcentres.” He pointed out that this was also the way to a better service, as the casual workers didn’t know the areas they were working in or the routes.

The North Edinburgh and Leith anti cuts groups declare : “Together local people and Council workers can fight for better services for the community and for better conditions for the workforce. We will be making sure that the Council keeps its promise to take on new permanent staff in cleansing.”

North Edinburgh Fights Back info@northedinburghfightsback.org.uk

Greater Leith Against the Cuts greaterleithc59@gmail.com