Refuse staff in Bexley are set to strike for two weeks over poor pay and treatment – meaning the borough will be hit with a “summer stink”.
About 140 staff will take part in the strike action from July 12 to 25 to protest their treatment by Serco, who run the contract on behalf of the council.
They are taking action over a ‘pathetic’ 1.5 per cent pay offer, disparities in pay for workers doing the same jobs, the removal of industrial sickness benefits and Serco’s refusal to hand over years of back pay owed to nearly 50 staff.
The union, Unite, also believes the outsourcing giant is victimising union members through its substance misuse policy.
As the dispute has grown in severity, Serco has increased random workplace drug and alcohol tests, while providing no help or advice for those who may need it.
Unite regional officer Ruth Hydon said: “Our members have no choice but to withdraw their labour in response to Serco’s mistreatment of them. They hope that members of the public will understand that the summer stink caused by uncollected rubbish in the heat of July is entirely the company’s fault.
“Serco’s pathetic pay offer, refusal to pay significant amounts of owed back wages and lack of pay fairness in general is what has caused these strikes.
“The company has added fuel to the fire with its vindictive and unnecessary use of drug testing to target staff for standing up for themselves. It is reflective of Serco’s disregard for its workforce, that absolutely no support has been offered to staff who may be struggling.”
Serco has not included refuse and cleansing staff on a stipulated pay progression scale for the last five years.
This has led to some refuse truck drivers being on the same pay scale as street sweepers, with some staff being owed thousands in back wages.
Unite members are also angry at the company’s 2021 pay offer of 1.5 per cent.
Staff have worked throughout successive national lockdowns to keep the service running, risking their own safety as well as their families.
Refuse staff in Bexley earn much less than people doing the same job in other areas of the capital.
In Greenwich refuse staff earn a minimum of £13 an hour, compared to £10.25 paid by Serco in Bexley, which is below even the London Living Wage.
Ms Hydon said: “Serco still has time to avoid any strike action, but the company must return to the negotiating table with an offer our members can accept.
“Unite also calls on Bexley council to put pressure on Serco to resolve this dispute so that inconvenience to the borough’s residents can be kept to a minimum.”
Graeme Waugh, Senior Contract Manager at Serco said “It is always our intention to work in partnership with trade unions so we are disappointed the decision to take strike action has been made while conciliation discussions are ongoing.
“We are working hard to minimise disruptions to residents at this time and would urge the union to reconsider this action.”
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