Exclusive: Cleaners Hired to Undermine Strikers During Edinburgh Festival

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Conter has received confirmation from a cleaning firm that it was used to perform the duties of Edinburgh council workers on strike during the festival.

Conter can reveal that a cleaning firm brought in to clean the streets of Edinburgh during the Festival explicitly understood it was there to undermine a bin strike by council staff.

Workers are striking for pay after being offered a 3.5 (later revised to 5) percent increase – a real terms cut against soaring inflation.

Kerr Events Cleaning (KEC) is one of a number of companies involved in clearing streets of refuse during the weeks-long and highly lucrative international arts festival. Extra cleaning labour is employed every year for the festival – but this year reports have surfaced of agency staff covering the work of strikers, what is normally considered ‘blacklegging’ – an attempt to undermine strike action.

Asked by Conter whether the firm was specifically asked to organise the clean-up of waste usually covered by striking council workers, a representative of KEC said: “When the festival organisers found out about the council strikes they called us in to help where possible to keep the royal mile as clean as possible.”

“Unique events ltd who we’ve worked with over many years originally booked us to help keep on top of the leaflet distribution but when we heard of the council strikes we are now trying to help where we can.”

Unique are an Edinburgh firm closely  associated with the Edinburgh Festival and Fringe. Conter understand they are brought in by the Fringe Society – a registered charity that receives money from both Edinburgh City Council and the Scottish Government as well as other sources – to administer the festival. Struggling with mounting rubbish during the busy period and strike, they deployed staff from KEC to help.

The BBC has reported KEC staff complaints that they had to clean up refuse from the bin strike. One staff member told the BBC: “It’s a nightmare, we are going to get rats. We wouldn’t walk by this and just pick up flyers, so we are cleaning the waste up as well.

“I don’t know why they aren’t getting more companies in to clean this up.

“I’m annoyed about this because they picked the wrong time to go on strike when they knew the festival was on.”

There have been reports of other attempts to mitigate the strike action, including by a consortium of Edinburgh business interests called Essential Edinburgh. Strikes are hitting numerous services across the city. Edinburgh city council conceded at the onset of the strike that all bin services and street cleaning would be impacted.

The strike by GMB and Unite workers in Edinburgh the start of a rolling, nationwide action, also involving the Unison union, against below inflation pay offers from Cosla – the Scottish organisation of local authority bosses.

Conter asked Edinburgh City Council (ECC) whether they were concerned about the operation of strike-breaking in the city, especially since it was in the service of a company in receipt of city funds.

An ECC spokesperson said: “Kerr Services are contracted by Unique Events as part of their event services for the Fringe. They have dedicated litter pickers throughout the Fringe Street Events, which is normal practice every year as part of their licence requirement to keep the footprint of the event – the Royal Mile and Mount Precinct – clean.

“The team are employed to litter pick only, this is normal practice and do not have any duties as a result of the strike. The Fringe is a separate entity from the Council and while they receive some grant funding they are not managed by the Council.”

The statement from KEC, which Conter sent to the council, directly contradicts the claim the workers “do not have any duties as a result of the strike”.

At the start of the strike, a GMB spokesperson said: “It’s a pathetic response from political leaders to a cost of living crisis that’s turning into a catastrophe for many front line workers and their families.

“Unless a significantly improved offer is urgently tabled, the strike dates already confirmed for later this month will be unavoidable, and notices for further actions will almost certainly follow as we head into autumn.”

Conter has approached both the Fringe Society and Unique for comment on KEC admission, but had not received any response by time of publication.

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