South Glos bin chaos could worsen, union warns

Pictured today, the litter-strewn  car park at Warmley Community Centre which is one of the locations where people can take recycling (not food waste) during the strike

The impact from the strike by around 150 workers employed by Suez to empty bins on behalf of South Gloucestershire Council could worsen after a court ruling banning agency workers.

Following the Government’s decision last July to reverse the ban on employers hiring agency workers during strike action, a group of unions, including Unite, challenged the decision through a judicial review. Last Thursday the High Court upheld that judicial review. The 2022 amendment to the regulations has been quashed due to the Government’s failure to consult prior to implementing their proposals.

Unite’s general secretary Sharon Graham said: “The Government’s decision to allow employers to recruit agency workers to undermine legal strike action was a cynical move to back their friends in business and weaken workers’ legal rights to withdraw their labour. Rather than weaken industrial action, it has hardened attitudes and unnecessarily extended strikes. The dispute with Suez is a perfect example of that. The only way this dispute will be resolved is with an acceptable offer from the company.”

Unite’s regional officer Ken Fish said: “Suez has been put on notice – no more agency workers after 10th August. Our members’ resolve remains rock solid and they will strike every day throughout the summer if necessary.”

The workers, who earn £11.53 an hour, began their all-out strike action earlier this month after rejecting an eight per cent pay offer. The union says that with the real rate of inflation (RPI) at 11.3 per cent, it is a significant real terms pay cut.

Unite was due to meet Suez last Friday for further talks but there was no sign of a resolution today. Last week Unite slammed the council’s open letter of 4th July, addressed to both the union and Suez, as a “pretend intervention to cover its back”. Suez’s regional director said the union had been asked to come back to the table with a revised offer but remained fixed on a 15 per cent pay rise.

At last week’s meeting of the council’s cabinet, the leadership was accused of making a misleading statement. Opposition Conservative group leader Sam Bromiley told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “It’s hugely disappointing to see the Labour-Lib Dem coalition attempt to mislead the public by claiming that its ‘open letter’ was positively received by Unite and Suez. In truth, Unite’s public response to the coalition’s letter was withering, accusing the administration of issuing ‘a pretend intervention’ and calling on them to get a grip.

“While Suez said they hoped negotiations will continue, the company was clear that discussions have stalled. Residents are understandably concerned about the environmental and public health crisis being caused due to the coalition’s failure to ensure proper mitigation measures are in place, and misrepresenting the views of Unite and Suez will only further increase anxieties.”

Black bin collections are being prioritised and the council has been telling residents not to put out kerbside recycling. Another venue – Cleve Rugby Club’s car park in Mangotsfield – has been added to the list of locations where residents can take recycling and food waste (but not green waste) from 8am to 2pm on weekdays. For a full list of all the extra facilities laid on during the dispute see the council’s website.

Meanwhile strikes by more than 300 refuse workers employed by Bristol Waste have been averted after workers accepted an improved pay offer.