Strikers in Camden are “fully determined to fight and achieve what we deserve” in their pay battle against outsourcing giant NSL.
They are battling the same firm that workers are striking against in Wandsworth. Around 130 Unison union members started a 14-day walkout in the north London borough on Monday.
Traffic wardens and CCTV observers—called Civil Enforcement Officers (CEOs)—are fighting for £11.15 an hour.
For full-time traffic wardens on the London Living Wage, that would mean an increase of up to £4,000 a year.
Striker Henry told Socialist Worker workers have to fight “because of the economic conditions”.
“People are worried about the low wages, and they don’t have savings to back themselves up,” he said.
The contract is tendered to outsourcer NSL but Camden Council receives the cash from parking permits and fines. Workers are frustrated that the council won’t step in and resolve the dispute.
CCTV worker Duncan said, “It’s their responsibility to pick it up. Camden Council made £26 million from their parking operations—we deserve a little more. What is a Labour council doing with a company like NSL?”
Strikers hope this week’s action will force bosses to make a serious offer. But workers are ready to push for more industrial action if NSL doesn’t concede.
It follows a five-day and 14-day strike last year, and strikers report more are joining the walkouts. Strikers are picketing the five main depots and plan mass pickets of Camden Council and NSL London headquarters.
Duncan said that for some people the pay increase would be “absolutely crucial”. “A lot of guys are forced to take second jobs,” he said. “They can’t get by otherwise.”
Supervisors and workers who recently ended their probationary period have joined the walkout.
Henry, a traffic warden for 15 years, told Socialist Worker the strike was “solid”. He said, “Almost all union members are out. There are no more than ten working.”
Duncan reported that out of 30 CCTV workers, 23 have joined the walkout.
The strike will hit the council in the pocket. NSL will also miss out on incentives based on the number of CEOs on the streets.
Workers face daily harassment and abuse—much of it racist.
“We’re not enemies of the public,” said Henry. “It’s a tough job but people don’t have a choice—they have to make ends meet.”
Outsourcing giant NSL claims that its business is “built on trust and respect”.
Traffic wardens in the London boroughs of Camden and Wandsworth won’t recognise that picture.
In 2017 NSL reported £2 million in profit. And the company also paid its top director £708,000—a pay increase of almost 400 percent since 2015.
Yet the Unison and GMB union members in the two boroughs are striking for higher wages and sick pay.
NSL has benefited from a culture of privatisation and outsourcing, which has become commonplace in public services over the last two decades. It’s swallowed up contracts in parking management, debt recovery, airport shuttle services, taxi management and CCTV monitoring.
And NSL boasts that it processes over two million fines for councils across Britain every year.
NSL has branched out into healthcare too.
In 2010 the firm bought Patient First contracts—a private service used by the NHS to transport non-emergency patients.
But in January 2014 the Care Quality Commission watchdog said the firm was failing in four out of five areas. It reported that workers hadn’t undergone criminal record checks and patients had experienced long waits. Its poor treatment of traffic wardens is nothing new.
NSL was described as “predatory and dishonest” by an employment tribunal in January 2012.
It came after a traffic warden, who had highlighted unfair parking quotas, was awarded £20,000 after being unfairly dismissed.
Hakim Berkani said NSL bosses told wardens in Kensington and Chelsea in west London to issue at least ten tickets per shift.
Judge Jeremy Burns said NSL bosses “saw the claimant as a trouble-maker because he had refused to comply with the clandestine quota system”.
His treatment exposes the British state