Bromley council’s plans to carry out a mass privatisation of services are being challenged by members of Unite with a third wave of strikes.
The selective strikes from June 10 to 20 come against a background of the Conservative-dominated authority being fully committed to becoming a commissioning council and reducing the number of council employees from 4,000 to 300 – despite having £130m in reserves.
Unite members at adult services and transport workers will be striking from 10-15 June. Library staff will be on strike from June 13 to 20. Unite members working for the council will strike on June 16.
The union has also organised a march to take place through Bromley in defence of services under the banner People and Services First on June 13, assembling at noon at Norman Park, Bromley Common BR2 9EF.
The remainder of the parks service is being transferred to the Landscape Group, which has announced that immediately after the transfer today (June 1) it will be making redundancies. Despite this transfer, council taxpayers will be bailing out the Landscape Group by footing the bill for the redundancies.
The council has also agreed to privatise learning disabilities services by handing it to another private company Certitude which could lead to more job losses.
“We have long warned that this is about cuts – now here is the proof that shows that we are right to be making a stand for services,” said Unite regional officer Onay Kasab. “Cutting staff levels for services that deal with vulnerable adults will have an inevitable adverse impact.
“It is a scandal that council taxpayers in Bromley will pick up a bill for redundancies made by private companies,” Kasab added. “Bromley council is gutless. The private companies will make the cuts, while Tory councillors rub their hands like Pontius Pilate.”
Turning the screw, the council has agreed to withdraw all facilities from Unite, including the legal right to carry out trade union duties, such as representing individual staff. Councillors claimed that they were not willing to grant paid time-off for trade union duties on the grounds that it was a financial burden.
Kasab said that Unite offered to pay for the facility time – but this was rejected by the council, showing that the move was to do with ‘blinkered right-wing ideology, not financial considerations’.
The council is also considering privatisation of the 14 libraries, replacing staff with unpaid volunteers and handing the libraries over to charities. Even the council’s own consultation exercise revealed that 83 per cent of respondents were in favour of directly-run council services. Residents were seriously concerned about private companies, including how they make their profits, replacing trained staff, imposing staff reductions and raising charges.
Unite members at Veolia Bromley, which has the contract for waste services from the council, are to be balloted for strike action in a dispute culminating after years of below inflation pay increases. The employer offered a 1.5 per cent pay increase, which the bin staff rejected.
“Bromley council is currently not a happy place to work, as the Tory ideologues are running amok in all directions with their privatisation folly, dismantling and privatising services that generations of Bromley residents have taken for granted,” Kasab noted.
Unite’s members voted by 87 per cent to take strike action in protest against the mass privatisation programme, cuts to pay and conditions, and the withdrawal of facility time from the Unite trade union representative.
The dispute comes against the backdrop of a Fair Deal For Local Government campaign by Unite’s London and Eastern region which has almost 300,000 members. The campaign is aimed against privatisation and austerity in local government.
The campaign is a set of proposals that Unite is putting to councils in the region. It is a procurement strategy to ensure that quality services are maintained and that there is no ‘race to the bottom’ for pay and conditions post any transfer.