Redbridge bin workers demand an end to exploitative conditions

by Kevin Parslow, Unite branch secretary Waltham Forest

Refuse and recycling workers in the London Borough of Redbridge, employed by a wholly owned subsidiary of the council, Redbridge Civic Services, were on strike in election week because of management’s refusal to negotiate on working conditions. Over 100 members of Unite the Union took the action in protest after management, and above them the Labour-run council, refused to do anything about exploitative working conditions. This includes aggressive pressure to work weekends, leading to increased sickness absence, with worse sick pay arrangements than directly employed council workers, and lack of vehicle maintenance.

Redbridge Bin Workers Strike
Redbridge bin workers’ strike

On election day itself, the workers marched from their depot in Ley Street to Redbridge Town Hall in Ilford High Road to highlight their issues. Arriving there, they were met by two senior council officers who asked them not to demonstrate directly outside the Town Hall steps!

Nevertheless the rally went ahead. As branch secretary of the neighbouring Unite branch for Waltham Forest Council, I spoke and reminded strikers that Unite had suspended Coventry councillors from the union when it acted in an anti-union manner during the refuse strike in that city. I also called on Unite to demand the incoming Labour government properly fund local government services and bring them back in-house. National Shop Stewards Network chair and Unite member Rob Williams also brought support.

The workers are now considering their next steps, but from 8 July there is an effective overtime ban in place. Meanwhile, Redbridge council leader Jas Athwal is now the MP for Ilford South (health secretary Wes Streeting represents Ilford North). There will be pressure on him to lobby the government for more funding for council services, but Redbridge strikers won’t hold their breath waiting!