By Sophie Squire
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Welwyn council workers win against bullying, sexism and racism after unofficial strike

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It involved around 100 workers in refuse collection, recycling, and grounds maintenance
Issue 2084
Ten workers in orange hi-vis clothing sit outside a Welwyn council depot in a battle over bullying, racism and sexism. It's an unofficial strike.

Welwyn council workers walked out against bullying on Tuesday

Outsourced workers for Welwyn Hatfield Borough council in Hertfordshire launched an unofficial strike on Tuesday. It’s in protest against someone they say is a sexist, racist and bullying manager. Around 100 workers in refuse collection, recycling, and grounds maintenance for commercial waste company Urbaser refused to work. 

And on Wednesday they heard the manager will no longer be employed on the council contract. It was a big victory for workers’ action.

They had made clear they would not return until the manager went. A striker who didn’t want to be named told Socialist Worker on Tuesday that bullying worsened when the council awarded the contract to Urbaser two years ago. “This manager says sexist things to the women working in the office,” the worker said. “He’s made comments about their weight and complained that ‘better-looking girls are needed. He’s made racist comments to black workers. He punches walls and constantly shouts and swears at us.” 

The worker added his behaviour is so bad that several of his colleagues have moved departments to get away from him.  “Longstanding workers have suffered mentally because of him,” they said. “The bullying culture in this job has even led to one colleague trying to kill himself. At Christmas we get a small bonus, but last year this manager decided to withhold that from us for seemingly no reason. 

“I had to comfort a young worker who was in tears after hearing he wouldn’t get his bonus. He didn’t know how he was going to pay his rent.” 

Workers made their issues with the manager known to the company, and 38 people signed a grievance letter. The manager was sent home while the investigation took place. But Urbaser interviewed only two of those who signed the letter. 

The company then said they would bring the manager back as quickly as possible. The Unite union appealed this decision. And then on Tuesday morning, workers found out that the manager would be brought back to work as soon as Thursday of this week. 

The worker said this was when “all hell broke loose.” “There was uproar when we’d heard he would be coming back. We’d put up with this man for years. We decided we wouldn’t go back to work until he went,” they said. “We knew what we were doing was an unofficial walkout and that it was illegal, but we all felt so strongly we knew we had to do it. We won’t go back tomorrow unless a solution is reached.” 

Workers gathered outside Welwyn council buildings from 5am to 8:30am to discuss where they should go next. The action has a big effect, with bins not being collected in Welwyn Hatfield on Tuesday. 

The worker said outsourcing makes workers much more vulnerable to bullying and intimidation. “Since the company came in, there has been a bullying mentality that goes beyond just this manager,” the worker explained. “We are disciplined constantly, and many of us who have worked for the council for decades started to be disciplined when we’d never been before. So many of us want to leave. It’s just a horrible company to work for.”

Workers were right to fight immediately and not to go through all the obstacles created by the anti-union laws to stop just this sort of action.

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