Workers' Weekly On-Line
Volume 51 Number 21, July 17, 2021 ARCHIVE HOME JBCENTRE SUBSCRIBE

Global Monopoly Serco

Waste Collectors Fight for their Rights during Pandemic

Workers at Serco waste collection services [1] in Sandwell, West Midlands, have been balloting for strike action after disabled workers were sacked for shielding [2]. One such shielding worker was awaiting a kidney transplant, it is reported. In a vote last month, 98% of workers invoked their union, GMB, to organise the strike ballot.

The dispute comes at a time when the government are lifting Covid lockdown restrictions. Now workers are being told to fend for themselves, in an abdication of responsibility by the public authority. As this case at Serco exposes, workers taking so-called "personal responsibility" are under threat of being sacked. Instead, workers are acting with social responsibility and mobilising to defeat the pandemic in opposition to the government's capitulation to the powerful private interests it represents. Workers must act in their own interests if they are to preserve their right to safety and security.

The conditions of working under pandemic circumstances are fraught with difficulties and vulnerable workers need to go beyond measures such as social distancing and wearing masks, for whom it can be a matter of life and death. Focus is also shifting to improving the claim of workers in the form of sick pay now that the furlough system is being ended and welfare benefits are being cut.

One particular issue at Serco Sandwell has been intimidation, with workers who spoke out over safety being threatened by management.

"Serco bosses have behaved appallingly. Sacking disabled workers for trying to keep them and their families safe, while bullying those who raise safety concerns is no way to run a business," said GMB regional organiser Justine Jones. "GMB members have had enough and are flexing their industrial muscle. They now face crippling industrial action and inconveniencing the people of Sandwell if they do not address these concerns."

Intimidation was an issue in another recent dispute at Serco, this time at the Royal London hospital in Whitechapel [3]. Back of house catering staff took five days of strike action in June over a year-long fight against management bullying, including an unworkable roster system. Further planned strike action was suspended as Serco largely met the workers' demands.

Over 40 parking wardens employed by Serco in Ealing have also been on strike for two weeks over their treatment by the company, following intermittent strike action since May and a three-day strike at the end of June [4]. The action is over the company's offer of severance to elected Unite representatives, activists, and other members in an attempt to undermine trade union organisation and collective consultation. At the same time, Serco is refusing to negotiate a new absence policy.

As is prevalent in all industrial relations at present, Serco in all of these disputes is imposing its decision-making and control over working conditions through might and intimidation without any concern for the voice, and indeed health and safety, of those it employs. It is in the interests of all that workers take a stand and resist this. The way forward is to connect that resistance with the necessity for control and to change the conditions both in the workplace and in society as a whole fundamentally. Employers are particularly trying to force through their "new normal" as a means to in fact cling onto the Old and impose everything but the New that is required. In opposition, workers aim at a new society and new mechanisms through which they are able to exercise control over the problems of society, the socialised economy, and all matters that affect their lives.

1. Serco is a global monopoly headquartered in Britain, principally contracted by governments to deliver public services. The company employs more than 50,000 people across Britain and Europe, North America, Asia and the Pacific, and the Middle East. In Britain, which accounts for the largest part of its business, Serco provides services on behalf of central and local government, and public sector bodies including defence, justice, immigration, healthcare and transport. (Source: Serco corporate website.)
2. "Serco Sandwell waste collectors strike ballot begins after shielding disabled workers sacked", GMB, June 30, 2021
3. "Royal London hospital strikes off as Serco offers major concessions in bullying and roster dispute", Unite the Union, July 5, 2021
4. "Ealing summer parking 'free for all' after new Serco civil enforcement strikes announced", Unite the Union, June 22, 2021


Link to Full Issue of Workers' Weekly

RCPB(ML) Home Page

Workers' Weekly Online Archive