Coventry council’s failure to address the low pay of its refuse collection drivers is set to lead to an escalation in strike action, after Unite announced a total of 19 new strike dates last week in the increasingly bitter bin dispute.
The 70 drivers were on their second day of a 48-hour walkout that began last Wednesday (January 5). The strike began after Coventry council informed Unite that it would not make an improved offer and that an offer which had previously been rejected by workers was no longer on the table, at last minute talks held on Tuesday, January 4.
A second set of strikes that was already announced is set to begin from tomorrow (January 11).
Unite convenor at Coventry city council Hayden Jones spoke to UniteLive from the picket line last week, explaining why the striking refuse collection drivers have been left with no choice but to walk out.
“It is untrue and unfair to say that drivers at Coventry city council are well-paid,” he said, noting that the starting wage for drivers was just over £22,000 a year.
“We’ve got drivers that can’t even afford medical care; we’ve got drivers that have been refused mortgages,” he added.
“I’m very sorry its come to this but unfortently they’ve left us no choice. Coventry Labour you should be ashamed of yourself for the poverty wages your employees are on at this moment in time”.
— Unite West Midlands (@UniteWestMids) January 5, 2022
Commenting on the latest strikes, Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said, “Unite members at Coventry council have been forced to escalate their industrial action due to the council’s total failure to enter into meaningful negotiations.
“Unite is entirely dedicated to protecting the jobs, pay and conditions of its members and will give the workers in Coventry the union’s full support in this dispute with what is supposed to be a Labour council,” she added. “It should be joining with the union to fight the scourge of poverty pay and ending the need to work excessive hours to make ends meet. Other councils have done just that. How come Coventry is so intransigent?”
The dispute is a result of the council’s refusal to address the low pay of its refuse lorry drivers who have a basic starting salary of just £22,183 and are required to have a HGV licence. The council’s basic pay rates are far below what the highly skilled drivers could earn in similar roles.
The dispute has become increasingly bitter and rather than enter into meaningful negotiations Coventry council has opted to issue increasingly intemperate and widely inaccurate public statements.
The council’s claims about the pay earned by the affected workers neglects to mention that workers are undertaking excessive hours of overtime, with working weeks well in excess of 50 hours standard. The long hours culture is affecting the workers’ physical and mental health as well as damaging family relationships.
Unite regional officer Simon O’Keefe added, “The strikes will inevitably cause Coventry residents considerable disturbance but this dispute is entirely of the council’s own making.
“Rather than seek a negotiated settlement and ending low pay, the council seems more interested in sending out ever more bizarre communications which are simply rising tensions,” he noted.
“It is inexplicable why Coventry council seems to believe it is a good thing that its workers are on such low pay rates that they are forced to work unsustainable and excessive hours in order to make ends meet,” O’Keefe went on to say. “Unite remains willing to return to the negotiating table and resolve this dispute but Coventry council needs to put forward an improved offer on pay for talks to take place.”
In addition to the four days of strikes already announced from Tuesday, January 11 to Friday, January 14, the workers will also take strike action on January 18, 21, 26, 28; February 2, 4, 9, 11, 16, 18, 23, 25; and March 2, 5, 9, 11, 16, 19 and 23.
By Barckley Sumner
Pic and video by Nathan Darby