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Local government round up: Success for battling Bexley bin workers

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Issue 2697
Bexley bin workers discuss their action
Bexley bin workers discuss their action (Pic: Willie Howard)

Bin workers in south east London won health and safety demands over coronavirus after a walkout on Wednesday of last week.

Unite union members in Bexley walked out to demand higher pay from the subcontractor Serco.

They were angry that they got paid up to £4 an hour less than colleagues in the neighbouring borough of Greenwich.

Willie Howard, a Unite organiser, said workers had “agreed to postpone their industrial action after a massive victory guaranteeing full sick pay to any worker forced to isolate or take time off because of coronavirus”.

“This concession from Serco and the council only came after rock-solid action that saw a total disruption to its efforts to break the strike,” he added.

Workers have vowed to keep up the fight over pay in the future. Howard said, “Let it be known that when this crisis is over we won’t tolerate going back to a regime of zero hours contracts, poverty pay and no sick pay.

“Now more than ever we see the real value of those workers so recently dismissed as ‘unskilled’.”

He added, “The strike over pay was no longer tenable with people rapidly becoming ill.

“But we’ve set a benchmark for the future when this is all over.

“Stand up and fight back against a lack of sick pay.”

Meanwhile, bin workers on the Wirral on Merseyside are being balloted for strikes over pay. The Unite union members, who work for

subcontractor Biffa, could walk out straight after the Easter holiday if they vote for strikes.

The union said it would confirm any industrial action after the ballot ended on Wednesday of this week.

Tower Hamlets strike called off due to virus, but the battle for justice continues

Thousands of workers in east London have called off a strike that would have seen council services and schools grind to a halt.

Around 4,000 council and school workers in Tower Hamlets were due to walk out on 24 March, 1 and 2 April.

The workers, who are members of the Unison and NEU unions, are battling the “Tower Rewards” programme that included a raft of attacks.

But the trade unionists agreed to suspend the action in light of the pressure facing council and school services amid the coronavirus outbreak.

John McLoughlin, Tower Hamlets Unison secretary, told Socialist Worker that they “were left with no choice” but to suspend the action. “In the context of Covid-19 we are willing to work collaboratively with the council,” he said.

As recently as a week ago, trade unionists were planning for mass rallies and picket lines during the strike.

But pressure on council services and a long list of exempted or isolated workers from the walkout means that trade unionists felt the action would have been untenable.


John said that the coronavirus emergency was happening against a backdrop of cuts to services and jobs that would have eased some of the strain.

“Our Meals on Wheels service shut in February—that’s a service that would be essential if it were still open,” he said.

A key element of the Tower Rewards is the council plans to slash severance and redundancy pay.

So workers who are deemed essential in delivering critical services to vulnerable people face being sacked “on the cheap” if the plans go through.

John said that workers “remain committed to our dispute”.

“But we recognise that the Covid-19 crisis is the most pressing thing facing not just us but the whole of humanity,” he said.

“We will play our role in getting through this crisis, but the issues are not settled.

“When we get through this, we demand that working people won’t pay for the corona crisis.”

Sarah Bates

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