Jamal Elaheebocus interviewed Damien Stewart about the Bexley refuse workers’ victory for improved pay and working conditions
Why were you planning to go on strike?
There were a few reasons why members at Serco Bexley voted to go out on strike:
- Implementation of full company sick pay from day one, which would eliminate the three day wait
- An increase to our hourly rate
- To remove members of management accused of bullying from the contract.
- A percentage increase for anyone earning over the enhanced hourly rate
How did you organise the strike?
The strike was organised by firstly building up our membership, with the help of our regional officer Ruth Hydon and the organiser Willie Howard. We went from 43 to over 150 members in just a few weeks, which was amazing. After that, there were plenty of meetings with members and posters were put up over the Union boards. A ballot at a later stage was put out to our members and a staggering 93.3% voted in favour.
What was in the deal that you achieved and what does the victory mean for workers?
I would say that we actually managed to achieve more than what was originally on the table from Serco. As for the members, it means that now they have not got to worry about pay when taking time off sick and they obviously also have extra payment to their wages.
How did Serco and the council respond to your action in March and recently?
Serco reacted by breaking into our union office and changing the locks and stopping overtime, while council officials called the police to have us removed from the site.
Are you planning any future action?
There are many more issues we can ballot on in the future and if necessary we are prepared to go out on strike.One of these is getting a contract on a London living wage and also getting a contract back in house.
And more generally how has coronavirus affected working conditions, health and safety, sick pay etc?
There had been a few issues around the coronavirus in the past. One was demanding full pay if anyone was to self-isolate. Members were told that they would be fully paid, yet after a few days Serco were calling staff telling them they wouldn’t get fully paid, forcing them to return back to work.
Secondly, health and safety around the coronavirus at the beginning was a joke. For example, we had no sanitiser, wipes or masks and no social distancing was put into place. Over the months there have been a lot of improvements which has made it a safer place for us to work.
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