Refuse workers in Bexley remain resolute in their strike against low pay, unfair conditions and bullying management, reports Jamal Elaheebocus
The picket line outside Thames Road Refuse Depot was good-spirited and a good size, with around 60 refuse workers (half the total workforce) working in the London borough of Bexley taking strike action against employers Serco.
There was a Barbecue serving striking workers breakfast and many car and lorry drivers tooted horns as they drove past. Police had been hostile towards the strikers at the start of the strike and remained around the area driving past the picket line.
Workers were striking against low pay and pay disparities between workers, with one worker saying that he earns £3,000 less per year than a fellow worker despite doing the same job. They are also being paid much less than refuse workers in other boroughs. Workers are also being offered very low sick pay and low pay for industrial injuries.
The strike has caused serious disruption to bin collections across the borough yet Serco and Bexley council refuse to raise pay for refuse workers.
These issues have been ongoing for well over a year. Refuse workers in Bexley went on strike in March 2020 but suspended the strike when the pandemic hit. However, management have not offered a pay rise despite the workers working through the pandemic and have continued with their tactics of bullying and harassment.
Unite the Union reps will be meeting with management of the new company, Countrystyle, which takes over the depot in a couple of months, to ensure that pay disparities are resolved and workers earning less than their colleagues are given a pay rise.
They have already secured the London Living Wage in the new contract from Countrystyle, which will be an improvement for some workers earning as little as £9 or £10 per hour.
Counterfire spoke to a Unite rep on the picket line:
“We’re on strike for a number of reasons. Serco have reneged on people’s pay for the past four or five years and there are also issues such as industrial injury payment. If we go off sick because of an injury at work there are low pay schemes for people who are sick and most people only get two weeks off. We’ve suffered bullying and harassment from management, which has been happening for a few years. We have got rid of one [member of management] but he’s still in the company so comes back at times.
The members have had enough now. It’s gone on for far too long so we are making a stand. Serco have lost the contract but that’s not going to stop us from striking. We want them to pay what they owe us. We’ve put a pay claim in but they haven’t acknowledged it so we are staying here and we want Countrystyle to know that we will not be pushed over.
We’ve got a meeting with Countrystyle this week and the offer might have to come from them. Serco don’t want to talk to us. The guys are strong here, no one has walked away as yet and they’re all bent on staying here.”
The strikers will be holding a protest outside the Bexley Civic Offices in Bexleyheath tomorrow at 6pm. They will also be on the picket line for the rest of this week from 5am to 10am at Thames Road Refuse Depot.
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