Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/583/7425
Bristol bins strike threat brings new conditions offer
BRISTOL BIN workers, members of the Unite union, after taking five days of discontinuous strike action, and after planning an all-out strike over pay and conditions, have now accepted a last-minute offer.
Mark Baker, Bristol PCS member
The refuse collectors were due a pay rise in November and claimed a 5% increase in line with inflation at that time. Their employers, Sita, deliberately delayed negotiations and offered 2.75%, exploiting the recession to hit the workers' terms and conditions.
Pam Jennings, Unite negotiator, explained that Suez group, of which Sita are a part, made £16.5 million profit in 2007 and get any costs plus 16% on top paid to them as part of their contract with the council. The madness of privatisation means council tax payers have to pay more to have their bins collected by a private company, who then don't pay their workforce a living wage to collect them.
The company claims it can't afford to pay the workforce what they should have. These workers have received no pay rise since 2007 and have many members such as road sweepers on, or just above, the minimum wage.
Sita UK's website boasts: "We treat waste materials as a resource" - it's a pity they haven't treated their workforce as a valuable resource too.
The work was privatised in 1994 and although employees who transferred had their terms and conditions protected by TUPE legislation at the time, Sita have driven down pay and conditions for those starting since that time - for example new staff get no sick pay for the first three days of sickness. This is accompanied by an increasingly bullying management style towards the workforce.
A support group was set up including trade unionists and Socialist Party members. The anger and the organisation obviously worried the council, who have not so far even invoked penalties on the errant company. As one bin worker said: "Our pay rise is four or five months late every year. They're not so slow to impose penalties on me if I don't pay my council tax for a few months".
Now the workers have accepted a 2.75% pay rise with the promise that future pay negotiations would be held at the Acas arbitration service, which workers will see as preferable to relying on Sita. But they will expect real improvements on issues such as pay and bullying management.
In The Socialist 10 June 2009:
Socialist Party election campaign analysis
Socialist Party workplace news
Socialist Party publication
International socialist news and analysis
Youth fight for jobs