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Volume 52 Number 1, February 6, 2022 ARCHIVE HOME JBCENTRE SUBSCRIBE

Workers' Forum

Coventry Refuse Strikes Begin, While Waste and Recycling Workers in Hastings and Rother Prepare to Ballot

An all-out continuous strike by refuse collection drivers began in Coventry on Monday, January 31. Unite reports that Coventry council reneged on a commitment to make a fresh offer a dispute over pay.

The drivers, skilled workers who hold HGV licences, are paid a basic rate of between £11.49 to £14.37 per hour, which is below comparable rates of pay for HGV drivers in the region. The context, according to the union, is where a number of councils have increased the pay of refuse drivers in recognition of the national shortage of HGV drivers, with Plymouth council the most recent to do so. Yet Coventry council has refused to engage in meaningful negotiations in a dispute that is now over a year long, say the union.

The council's political leadership had pledged a week earlier to make a new offer over the central issue of low pay. At formal negotiations on Friday, January 28, the talks concluded with the council promising to send a formal offer by 16:00 that day. However, no offer was made, reports the union. As a consequence, the 70 refuse lorry drivers have begun their all-out strike action.

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: "It is shameful that Coventry council reneged on a promise to table a fresh offer which could have ended this dispute. Coventry residents should be demanding answers about what on earth the council is playing at. They are constantly saying one thing then doing another."

According to Unite, rather than seek to resolve the dispute, the council has instead placed its energies in setting up a rogue, alterative bin collection service and has recruited agency drivers on rates of between £18 to £20 per hour to drive the vehicles. Unite has written to the council, the agency and the council's own company Tom White Waste Ltd, which will provide the service, warning them that their actions are contrary to employment law.

Unite is seeking urgent clarification as it appears that Tom White Waste Ltd does not appear to have the necessary traffic and environmental licences to undertake kerbside collections, leading to growing concerns that the safety of residents, refuse collectors and the drivers themselves will be compromised.

Meanwhile, the GMB reports that waste and recycling workers in Hastings and Rother are balloting for strike action, after Biffa, who run the refuse contracts for the two adjoining areas, ended negotiations over pay. The talks ended with the company telling GMB representatives that there would be no improvement to the company's 1.75% pay offer.

Yet, according to the union, at the same time Biffa Contracts Manager Trevor Elliot was quoted in the local press as saying: "There is a little bit of discussion and dialogue going on still between ourselves and the GMB, just to get this across the line and then look to negotiating for next year because this is so many months behind." He then added to this flat contradiction with actual events: "We are managing the situation, let's put it that way. You can never say never, but alongside yourselves the last thing we want is any action and any disruption to services."

GMB Regional Organiser Frank Macklin said: "With inflation running at around 5.4%, why would Biffa feel that a measly 1.75% pay offer would satisfy GMB Members right now? All across the country, GMB waste and recycling operatives and loaders are recognising their own true value for the role they play in keeping our homes, streets and towns free of rubbish."

Regional Organiser Gary Palmerr said: "This disingenuous approach and game playing by local management in these pay talks has now left our members only one course of action to take, and that is almost certainly going to be strike action. Action looks all but inevitable as Biffa have said talks are concluded and are then misleading Councillors in Hastings and Rother by saying the situation is being managed."

The ballot will open on Friday, February 11 and remain open for two weeks.


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