Refuse collection strikes could be rolled out across UK

Strikes by refuse collectors in Leeds will be replicated across the country as councils look to scale down workers’ pay following equal pay evaluations to save money, a union has warned.

In Leeds, 500 refuse collectors, street sweepers and graffiti cleaners have been on strike since 7 September over claims that the council wants to cut their pay by up to £6,000, from £18,000, by 2011.

Desiree Risebury, a regional officer for the union GMB, told Personnel Today these strikes were likely to spread as councils sought a cheaper way to address equal pay.

“I am positive it will happen elsewhere,” she said. “That’s why this dispute is very important.

“Usually things that happen in bigger cities happen to roll out to other areas. It’s cheaper for councils to tackle equal pay by scaling [pay] down, not up.”

Risebury added refuse collection workers and landscape gardeners in Bradford were “pretty close” to balloting for strike action after the council announced plans to consult on the termination of their bonus payments as part of an equal pay evaluation.

Sheffield workers are already balloting for strike action over pay and grading, but this is not linked to equal pay evaluations.

As part of a modernisation package affecting the Leeds strikers, unions claim the workers will be required to work more flexibly, work for longer hours, and take on more responsibility. Risebury said these changes meant the workers should not lose any pay.

But a statement released by Leeds City Council refuted claims that workers were set to lose up to £6,000 a year and said: “While – regrettably – some workers are theoretically worse off at the end of this process, the greatest loss in pay is actually £4,491, and the average is less than £3,000.

“At the same time, a number of their colleagues are actually benefiting from the pay and grading process.”

The council and unions GMB and Unison were expected to hold official talks to try and resolve the dispute today (Monday).

But Tony Pearson, a Unison regional organiser, told Personnel Today there were also strong suspicions that Leeds City Council had decided to cut the pay of these workers because it hoped to outsource the services to private providers by 2011, and wanted “to make pay attractive to private sector providers”.

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