Refuse collectors in Edinburgh are on an unofficial work-to-rule, and Unite are balloting for strike action.
As the rubbish piles up and the Festival looms, the council have employed private contractors to clean up certain tourist-attracting streets, whilst refusing to take their proposals off the table and negotiate meaningfully.
The dispute is over the “modernisation” of the wage structure, which, in real terms, would equate to a loss of up to £6000pa for some workers, on top of a pay freeze announced previously. The justification for these changes is to equalise pay along gender lines: there is a “bonus” system which applies to jobs which are mainly done by men (for instance, refuse collection), and which most female-dominated jobs are not eligible for.
This system was originally implemented because refuse collectors earn a paltry base rate of £12,000pa, and designed to bring their wages up to just under £19,000pa. Workers in sectors dominated by women, such as cleaners, did not get such concessions.
The Council is playing off rhetoric about gender equality against workers’ rights, claiming that 80% of workers will not lose out or be better off, and that women will particularly benefit.
Council workers are unconvinced by this figure, and, anyway, since when has it it been OK for 20% of the workforce to lose out, regardless of gender?
Gender equality should mean decent wages for all: women should join the fight for their own wages and for the wages of their male co-workers, so that no worker — male or female — loses out.