'Summer stink' warning in Bexley

‘Summer stink’ to hit Bexley as Serco refuse workers strike

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Bexley will be hit with a ‘summer stink’ when Serco refuse and cleansing workers strike over low pay and poor treatment, Unite said today (June 29).

Around 140 Unite members will take part in two weeks of strike action – from 12 July until 25 July – over a ‘pathetic’ 1.5 per cent pay offer, disparities in pay for workers doing the same jobs, the removal of industrial sickness benefits and Serco’s refusal to handover years of back pay owed to nearly 50 staff.

Outsourcing giant Serco, which runs the contract on behalf of Bexley Council, has failed for half a decade to include refuse and cleansing staff on a stipulated pay progression scale. The situation has led to instances of refuse truck drivers being on the same pay scale as street sweepers, with some staff being owed thousands in back wages.

Unite members are also angry at the company’s 2021 pay offer of 1.5 per cent. Unite members have worked throughout successive national lockdowns to keep the service running, risking their own safety as well as their families.

Refuse staff in Bexley earn much less than their counterparts in other areas of the capital. For example, in neighbouring Greenwich refuse staff earn a minimum of £13 an hour, compared to £10.25 paid by Serco in Bexley, which is below even the London Living Wage.

Unite has also accused of Serco of victimising union members through the unfair policing of its substance misuse policy. As the dispute has grown in severity, Serco has increased random workplace drug and alcohol tests, while providing no help or advice for those who may need it.

Unite believes the increase in drug testing has been used to target workers for standing up for themselves, as the tests were not linked to any reported safety issues.

Meanwhile, Unite members employed by Serco are also on strike over union-busting on Ealing’s civil enforcement team and the bullying of catering staff at Royal London Hospital.

Unite regional officer Ruth Hydon said, “Our members have no choice but to withdraw their labour in response to Serco’s mistreatment of them. They hope that members of the public will understand that the summer stink caused by uncollected rubbish in the heat of July is entirely the company’s fault.

“Serco’s pathetic pay offer, refusal to pay significant amounts of owed back wages and lack of pay fairness in general is what has caused these strikes,” she added.

“The company has added fuel to the fire with its vindictive and unnecessary use of drug testing to target staff for standing up for themselves,” Hydon continued. “It is reflective of Serco’s disregard for its workforce, that absolutely no support has been offered to staff who may be struggling.

“Serco still has still has time to avoid any strike action, but the company must return to the negotiating table with an offer our members can accept. Unite also calls on Bexley council to put pressure on Serco to resolve this dispute so that inconvenience to the borough’s residents can be kept to a minimum.”

By Ryan Fletcher

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