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The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

Rubbish wages

by New Worker correspondent

ACROSS the country refuse workers have recently been at the sharp end of the class struggle.

In Glasgow, a long-running pay and conditions dispute was suddenly resolved shortly before the world’s press descended on the city for the COP26 conference last November. In other places the struggle for decent wages continues without so much publicity.

Once upon a time refuse collectors were direct local government employees. Despite the low wages, the security of employment and a local authority pension meant it was not too bad a job for those who didn’t shine too brightly at school.

Now, however, contracts for cleansing services have largely been outsourced, either to multinational companies or to ‘arms-length management organisations’ (ALMOs) in which council cleansing departments were transformed into companies, enabling councillors to become highly paid directors rather than suffer the indignity of merely collecting an allowance for attending the attending the cleansing sub-committee.

On Monday the Liverpool Echo expressed horror that an advertisement for a “bin refuse loader” at Ellesmere Port was advertised at £9.30–£18.60 per hour for someone who need not necessarily have had previous experience but had to be physically fit to lift heavy recycling boxes and be able to understand health and safety literature.

Needless to say, as with all advertising, there was a catch. The vast majority of the jobs in the department were at the bottom end of the scale, the £18.60 might just possibly apply to long-serving drivers.

The latest to take action are those in Wiltshire, where members of the GMB union have voted overwhelmingly to take strike action in protest at Hills Waste Solutions imposing a below-inflation pay rise of a mere two per cent.

GMB regional organiser Nicola Nixon warned: “Time is running out if Hills want to get back around the table to discuss our members’ pay expectations of a seven per cent pay increase before any possible major disruption of waste and recycling collections for more than 250,000 homes.

“We can’t negotiate on our own and despite GMB having the largest membership, Hills have done nothing to make us think that’s going to change. We were told at our last meeting that there is an improved offer, but that they won’t tell us what it is yet.”

In the West Midlands town of Solihull the same union is also balloting for strike action. Regional Officer Dave Warwick said: “Refuse collectors in Solihull do not want to go on strike, but Amey has backed them into a corner by refusing to negotiate. Inflation is rampant, we’re in the midst of a cost-of-living crisis and these workers are massively in demand.” He also pointed out that they deserved a real increase for working right through the pandemic.

Also in the Midlands, in the blitzed city of Coventry, Unite has a fight on its hands against the city’s Labour Council where drivers are striking over low pay.

Sharon Graham, the union’s general secretary, said: “Coventry council is guilty of wasting council taxpayers’ money. This dispute would take just £250,000 to resolve. The council estimates that the dispute has already cost it £1.8 million and yet it continues to pour money into a private waste service rather than resolve the strike.” It is presently paying £18–£20 per hour to scab drivers.

This is a dispute that may have wider implications as the union has a strained relationship with the Labour party nationally due to the council’s actions.