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20 March 2020

Bexley binworkers' strike wins sick pay from day one

Rob Williams

Binworkers working for privateer Serco at Tory-run Bexley council have won a big victory after taking determined strike action.

After one day, they forced the employer to concede full sick pay from day one if any workers are forced to isolate or take time off during the coronavirus crisis.

Local Serco management were clearly stunned by the militant action of the binworkers. Up to 100 of them picketed the bin depot, stopping bin wagons leaving for hours by using their legal right to walk back and forth across the zebra crossing conveniently situated just outside the depot entrance.

Management called the police who were stymied for ages because they didn't know whether the road was private or not. When their chief eventually turned up with the necessary documentation hours later, the binworkers were ready to leave after severely disrupting the bin collections!

However, this was after the initial police presence had aggressively steered a wagon, allegedly needing to leave for an MOT, through the picket. But they had to fight for every inch as pickets resisted every step of the way.

At one stage a policeman pushed a woman striker aside, which infuriated other pickets who revealed that she was pregnant.

This was on top of management outrageously locking up the union office inside the depot, which is shared with neighbouring Dartford council and therefore probably isn't actually owned by Serco.

For the second time in a week, London binworkers have shown their fighting capacity. Last week, we reported on the equally militant strike in Tower Hamlets.

The Bexley workers have now paused their action in light of the concessions on sick pay. But they have made it clear to management that the action will be put back on if the issues of low pay and precarious employment aren't addressed.

One agency worker told of how he and others turn up every morning and have to hang around for an hour to see if there is work for them and if not, they are told to go home, in the same way that London dockers were treated before the war.

It's clear that these are essential workers in this crisis, doing vital work to clean up our communities. Just today, even the Tory government has confirmed that ‘waste disposal workers’ are on its ‘key worker' list.

Yet many are treated with contempt by bosses as in Victorian times. But they have roared back in Bexley and can bank this success, ready to fight for more.

The likes of Serco can't be trusted with such an important service as the bins. Therefore, Socialist Party members gave our solidarity on the picket line and at the same time call for the bin contract to be brought back in-house to end the scourge of outsourcing and privatisation. We also call for the binworkers in Tower Hamlets to be paid back the outstanding holiday pay owed to them.