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The LibDem joint leader of Leeds city council, Richard Brett, further insulted striking refuse workers last week by saying you don’t need a degree to be a rubbish collector. He was trying to justify the £5,000 a year pay cuts he’s trying to impose.

Alistair Tice

Well Councillor Brett, you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to work out that already low-paid workers – basic pay £14,500 a year, average earnings £18,000 a year – can’t afford pay cuts of nearly one-third.

Also, the productivity increases demanded by your latest ‘offer’ are impossible to achieve. Binmen are already running round after refuse wagons to achieve the current collection rate of 196 households an hour under ‘task and finish’. This is already higher than in neighbouring councils, where it’s 181 households. 220 houses an hour is impossible so workers would never qualify for the £4,500 dependent on it. That’s why 92% rejected your ‘final’ offer.

Sickness rates are high because bin workers collect rubbish in all weathers which is detrimental to their health. Impossible productivity targets will make that worse.

Your claim that the strike has ‘only’ cost Leeds council tax payers £100,000 ‘only’ proves that binmen are low-paid and that it has cost more to get private contractors in to deliver a ‘rubbish’ service. The private contractors have not even been able to make the promised fortnightly collection, yet they have cost more than the money saved on strikers’ wages.

The real reason you want to cut council workers’ pay has something to do with the council having a projected overspend of £5.5 million this year as a result of the recession. In other words, you want the low-paid to pay the price for the bursting of the financial and property bubble.

Leeds binmen are now into their ninth week of all-out strike action. Only three strikers have returned to work. Despite rubbish piling up, public support remains high. The strike has forced the council to talk and then find money.

The workers are determined to stay out until the pay cuts are scrapped altogether. On 5 November, refuse collectors in Brighton begin industrial action, including a week-long strike against similar ‘pay and regrading’ cuts of up to £8,000 a year. Sheffield’s already privatised bin workers are also balloting, against the introduction of two-tier pay.