'It's about time somebody took a stand'

WATCH: striking Coventry council refuse collection drivers speak out on the picket line in fight for fair pay

Reading time: 6 min

This week refuse collection drivers employed by Coventry council have embarked on a new round of all-out strike action after council leaders went back on their pledge to make a fresh offer in the workers’ fight for fair pay.

Council leaders told Unite reps that they could expect a new pay offer last week, which raised hopes the dispute could be settled. But after negotiations, the promised offer failed to materialise by the council’s own given deadline of 4pm last Friday (January 28).

The 70 bin collection HGV drivers, who are paid a basic rate of between £11.49 to £14.37 an hour — well below comparable rates of pay for HGV drivers in the region – have been left with no other option but to strike.

UniteLive caught up with the striking refuse collection drivers on their first day of the latest round of continuous strike action on Monday (January 31).

“I believe I’m worth more; I believe my colleagues are worth more,” one driver, who was asked why he was striking, told UniteLive.

“With the rise of living costs, and inflation, wages aren’t going up and I think it’s about time somebody made a stand – and here we are,” another driver added.

The drivers also spoke of the financial hardship they’ve endured as a result of chronic low pay, which has now been exacerbated both by the cost of living crisis and being on strike.

“It’s been difficult to be honest with you,” one worker said. “I’ve got a wife at home who is terminally ill with cancer. I’ve got two young children. I’ve got a very hefty mortgage; bills that are ever increasing. That’s why I’m on strike – to get better pay.”

More than anything, the striking drivers want to end the dispute and get back to work, they told UniteLive.

“I’m a resident of Coventry and I like to take pride in my work. I like to feel like I’m making a difference when I do a job – and this job ticks all the boxes,” said one worker.

But what’s stopping the Coventry refuse collection drivers from getting back to the job they so love is the continued intransigence of their employer, Coventry council.

Rather than seek to resolve the dispute, the council has instead set up a rogue, alterative bin collection service and has recruited agency drivers on rates of between £18 to £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 against employment law.

Unite has also expressed concern that Tom White Waste Ltd does not appear to have the necessary traffic and environmental licences to undertake kerbside collections. This, Unite believes, could compromise the safety of residents, refuse collectors and the drivers themselves.

Commenting, Unite regional officer Simon O’Keeffe said, “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 general secretary Sharon Graham has called on the council to come to the table, put forward a new pay offer as promised and end this dispute.

“It is shameful that Coventry council reneged on a promise to table a fresh offer which could have ended this dispute,” she said. “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.”

Text by Hajera Blagg

Videos by Nathan Darby

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