by Rob Williams, Socialist Party industrial organiser
The Socialist Party welcomes the improvements to pay and conditions that striking Bexley bin workers in Unite have won after taking indefinite action for over six weeks. They started their dispute in the South London borough in the weeks before the first wave of the Covid pandemic early last year. That action was then suspended and the bin workers showed that they were key workers, putting their health at risk during the height of coronavirus.
But all this has been forgotten by their employer, the notorious Serco, and the Tory council, with the same issues remaining. A series of different outsourced companies over the years after the service was privatised has seen workers employed on different pay and hours. This has led to anomalies with newer workers being on up to £6,000 more than some of their more longstanding workmates who have service of over a decade.
The strike was vital as the Serco contract is coming to an end next month, to be replaced by Countrystyle. The workers’ union Unite reports that: “The agreement with Countrystyle Recycling will see the lowest-paid workers receive a pay rise of 11% with rates increasing to £11.50 an hour, above the real London Living Wage of £10.85, as well as pay rises for staff on other grades.
“Some drivers, previously on £22,000 a year because of Serco’s failure to pay workers according to stipulated pay scales, will see their wages increase to more than £30,000 when they transfer to Countrystyle. The deal with Countrystyle also sees staff receive an extra five days annual leave as well as 12 weeks of industrial injury sick pay that was denied them by Serco.”
This result was achieved by the determination of Unite and its members at Bexley, who had to face up to hardline policing at the start of the dispute. The workers welcomed Socialist Party members and National Shop Stewards Network (NSSN) supporters, who consistently went to the picket line to support their action, as well as the likes of Tony Davis Unite convenor of the bin workers in Thurrock, just across the Dartford Bridge. They had also won a victory over another Tory council earlier this year after also being out for six weeks, and their successful action was an inspiration to the Bexley workers.
This result will strengthen the union in the bin depot, and the workers are fully aware of how outsourcing will always be a stick to beat them. The Tory council tried to act as ‘neutral’ during the dispute, as if it was nothing to do with them. But the workers weren’t fooled and organised protests outside the council HQ.
While the outcome is welcome, the workers also support the need to stop privatisation and bring these services back in-house along with their jobs and terms and conditions.
Bexley bin workers strike for better pay — Update
11TH AUGUST 2021
The Socialist Party is still standing with Unite and Bexley binworkers out on strike. NSSN supporters and members of Unite LE/1228 were there too (with a donation to the strike fund). Shame that the Labour council haven’t come out in support and that Serco won’t come to talks.
Bexley bin workers strike for better pay
2ND AUGUST 2021
by Berkay Kartav, South East London Socialist Party
Bexley bin workers have now entered their third week of industrial action, with more strike action planned in August, effectively going indefinite.
Running the refuse and cleansing service on behalf of Bexley council, private company Serco has offered a measly 1.5% pay rise — which was rejected by workers — and it refuses to hand over the back pay it owes to 50 workers.
Outrageously, Serco has also failed to include refuse staff on a stipulated pay progression scale, which means workers doing exactly the same job are paid differently by the company.
Since the beginning of the strike, refuse workers have also been appalled by heavy-handed policing against workers who, not wanting to let refuse trucks cross the picket line, walked and stood on the zebra crossing in front of the depot in Crayford.
At the same time, the police have turned a blind eye to overloaded trucks that are a safety hazard! They have shown that they are on the side of private companies such as Serco, not the workers.
Serco’s contract with Bexley council will expire in October, and another outsourcing company, Countrystyle Recycling, will replace it. The council has said that workers will be paid the London Living Wage (£10.85 an hour) when they are transferred to new contracts, which is an increase of 50p an hour. But even this is not enough. Refuse workers in Greenwich earn a minimum of £13 an hour.
On 21 July, Socialist Party members joined the protest organised by Unite outside Bexley Civic Offices, as the council is dodging responsibility even though it is handing out contracts for council services.
Serco shouldn’t just be replaced by another private company. We call for all outsourced services to be brought back in-house, and an end to privatisation in local government and across the public sector.
Bexley bin workers strike
15TH JULY 2021
Bexley bin workers have started a two-week strike. Taking confidence from the recent victory of bin workers at Thurrock, another Tory-controlled council, workers are striking against private company Serco.
The refuse and cleaning contract has recently been retendered by Bexley council. But the workers’ union Unite understands that Serco is the only bidder because the profit margins are so low. Bexley council plans to reduce the contract by £2.5 million over five years – a move that Unite warned could result in years of industrial unrest if staff bear the brunt.
The 140 Serco refuse and cleaning workers began striking from 12 July until 25 July, with a picket line between 5am and 10am being held every weekday. Serco has failed for half a decade to include refuse and cleansing staff on a stipulated pay progression scale. The situation has led to instances of refuse truck drivers being on the same pay scale as street sweepers, with some staff being owed thousands in back wages.
Workers are also angry at the company’s 2021 pay offer of 1.5%. Unite members have worked throughout successive national lockdowns to keep the service running, risking their own safety as well as that of their families.
Refuse staff in Bexley earn much less than their counterparts in other areas of the capital. For example, in neighbouring Greenwich refuse staff earn a minimum of £13 an hour, compared to £10.25 paid by Serco in Bexley, which is below even the London Living Wage.
We call for an end to privatisation in local government and across the public sector, and for all outsourced workers to be brought back in-house.