Coventry bin strikes begin

All-out continuous bin strikes begin today as Labour council reneges on promised offer

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An all-out continuous bin strike began today (January 31) in Coventry after council leaders reneged on a commitment to make a fresh offer in the dispute over pay.

Representatives from Unite met with Coventry council’s political leadership last Monday (January 24) and were promised that a new offer would be made by the council that week, increasing hopes that a settlement could be reached in the dispute involving refuse collection HGV drivers.

Unite held several formal negotiation sessions with the council but no fresh offer was tabled over the central issue of low pay. At the negotiations on Friday (January 28) the talks concluded with the council promising to send a formal offer by 4pm that day. However, no offer was made.

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said, “It is shameful that Coventry council reneged on a promise to table a fresh offer which could have ended this dispute. Coventry residents should be demanding answers about what on earth the council is playing at. They are constantly saying one thing then doing another.

“Unite does what it says on the trade union tin and it always puts the jobs, pay and conditions of its members first. The union will be unwavering in its support for our members in Coventry getting a fair deal on a regrading.”

As a consequence of Coventry council’s failures, the 70 refuse collection HGV drivers will begin their all-out strike action from tomorrow. The workers, who all hold an HGV licence, are striking over low rates of pay. They are paid a basic rate of between £11.49 to £14.37 an hour, which is below comparable rates of pay for HGV drivers in the region.

The low pay of the refuse drivers is in sharp contrast to Coventry’s top council bosses who were paid £2.9 million last year. Chief executive Martin Reeves takes home £229,000 in pay and pension.

Rather than seek to resolve the dispute, the council has instead placed its energies in setting up a rogue, alterative bin collection service and has recruited agency drivers on rates of between £18 – £20 an hour to drive the vehicles. Unite has written to the council, the agency and the council’s own company Tom White Waste Ltd, which will provide the service, warning them that their actions are contrary to employment law.

Unite is seeking urgent clarification as it appears that Tom White Waste Ltd does not appear to have the necessary traffic and environmental licences to undertake kerbside collections, leading to growing concerns that the safety of residents, refuse collectors and the drivers themselves will be compromised.

Unite regional officer Simon O’Keeffe added, “Despite Unite’s best endeavours, strikes will intensify this week. This will ultimately result in further disruption for Coventry residents but these strikes are entirely of the council’s own making. Rather than seeking to secure an agreement to end the dispute, the council is instead intent on wasting council taxpayers’ money on an alternative rogue collection service.

“Unite has become increasingly concerned that the council’s rogue collection service is both unlicensed and unsafe and Coventry council has been unable to answer legitimate concerns about the validity of the service.”

Unite has been seeking to resolve the dispute for over a year but Coventry has refused to engage in meaningful negotiations. A growing number of councils have increased the pay of refuse collection drivers in recognition of the national shortage of HGV drivers, with Plymouth council the most recent to do so.

A picket line will be in place at the council’s Whitley Depot at 259 London Road, Coventry CV3 4AR.

By Barckley Sumner

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