Now into week 11, the bin strike in Leeds has been the most significant piece of industrial action in Yorkshire since the miners’ strike.
A Leeds Unison steward
Last week, Leeds council delayed talks so it can seek legal advice. Unison and the GMB have put forward a proposal to lift the grades of the lowest paid, which would close the pay gap for everyone, ensuring no-one loses out.
The council are worried that if these workers’ pay is raised, other workers could make equal pay claims and claim back pay through the courts.
Three weeks ago 400 Streetscene and refuse workers voted 92% to reject the council’s offer as their productivity targets were impossible and would also mean their pay would be reduced by a third – on average from £18,000 to just £13,000 a year.
With the restoration of weekend rates in their ‘offer’, pay only increases to £14,500. £4,500 of that would depend on crews collecting bins from 220 properties an hour rather than the current average of 196! The council’s own statistics show average collection across neighbouring authorities is 181 bins per hour.
Refuse workers in Leeds get £14,500, well below basic pay in Bradford – £16,663, Kirklees – £16,991, and Wakefield- £16,991.
Meanwhile, Leeds council has paid out more than £1 million to private contractors during the strike and the cost to taxpayers is rising. This figure does not include the extra landfill tax the authority will have to pay as a result of the increased waste going to rubbish dumps rather than recycling centres.
Unions say the private contractors have provided only a very basic service. They have not coped and have only been effective in the more affluent areas of Leeds. One woman contacted the media to say that her bin had not been emptied for ten weeks, and she lives on a main road!
Three of the private contractors have now been warned off supplying staff to carry out striking workers’ duties and as a result the council have been forced into employing temporary workers to break the strike.
If there is no settlement in sight, workers fear that the council intend to carry out a threat of dismissal against the striking bin men. Then an indicative ballot for an all-out council strike will take place.