The High Court has refused a local authority’s bid to prevent employees at one of its bin depots from going on strike.
Warrington Borough Council sought an injunction to stop refuse drivers, who are members of Unite, from continuing to strike over pay. However, following a hearing earlier this week, Justice Eady refused its application because it was “not an exceptional case as to warrant the grant of an injunction”.
Unite and several other unions submitted a pay claim to the National Joint Council for Local Government Services (NJC) earlier this year that sought a pay increase of RPI plus 2%, plus various proposals to improve pay and working conditions.
Terms and conditions for local government employees are subject to national negotiation with the NJC.
The NJC offered workers a consolidated payment of £1,925 per employee or a 3.88% increase for those at the top of the pay scales, which was refused by Unite.
In September, Unite notified Warrington Borough Council of its intention to call a discontinuous strike at its Woolston depot from 3-16 October. Negotiations took place in October and November, but no agreement was reached and the industrial action continued.
Warrington bin strike
Further industrial action is planned for 5-23 December.
Warrington Borough Council told the High Court that the strike focused on local issues at the Woolston depot, which were not part of the NJC pay claim.
It also argued that the ongoing strike action has led to a build-up of waste and presented a potential risk to public health.
However, Justice Eady said in her judgment: “Just because a particular matter raised in negotiations had not been listed in the original NJC claim does not mean that it was not being raised as part of an attempt to resolve the dispute relating to that claim.
“Once strike action has commenced, resolution of the trade dispute for which it has been called will generally necessitate resolving any issues that might relate to the taking of that action (e.g. lost pay, pension or holiday entitlement; protection of agency workers who refused to cross the picket line; etc). I do not consider that raising the question of holiday accrual for those involved in the strike action or the issues relating to agency workers who did not cross the picket line at the depot demonstrates that the defendant was in some way pursuing a different dispute.”
Warrington Borough Council said it was considering an appeal.
It said in a statement: “This ruling may lead to significant future implications for all councils who continue to abide by the national pay agreements for local government.
“It was our belief that we had a strong case and good prospect of a positive outcome. While this judgment deems the current strike action by Unite to be lawful, we continue to be hugely disappointed by the impact that their course of action is causing for our town. We continue to call on Unite and their members to end the strike and to return to work.
“We know that this ruling is not an acceptable outcome for our residents, whose bins desperately need emptying.”
Responding to the judgment, Sharon Graham, Unite general secretary, said: “The ‘industrial reality’ is that there is only one way to settle this dispute and that is for Warrington council to get back into negotiations and put forward a reasonable offer. Warrington refuse workers have their union’s absolute backing as they strike for a fair pay rise.”
Rachel Halliday, a partner at law firm Thompsons Solicitors, which acted for Unite, said: “The judge rightly recognised the industrial reality that those involved in negotiations to resolve a trade dispute may well need to look for new and creative solutions to move beyond an impasse.
“This is a helpful judgment for trade unions in that it makes it clear that the requirement contained in the Trade Union Act 2016 to provide a summary of the trade dispute in the ballot paper means a summary and not a list of every conceivable issue which might arise during the course of negotiations.”