Unite, the UKs leading union, has confirmed the details of its industrial action, which will disrupt Coventry councils refuse collection service from next week, in a dispute over pay and Christmas working.

The first strike is set to begin on Tuesday 21 December ending on Friday 24 December. Unite has formally informed the council that during the strike the workers will be working for an hour, striking for an hour and then working for an hour, throughout their shift. During the periods when the workers are striking, the drivers will return their refuse collection lorry to the council depot.

Coventry council has unhelpfully and wrongly claimed that it has rejected this form of strike action. This is incorrect, as an employer cannot decide what form of industrial action workers take during a legal dispute.

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “You might expect a Labour council to be sympathetic to the low-pay plight of its bin drivers. But instead of a willingness to find a way, it’s been total intransigence from the council, combined with social media tirades against their own workers.

“They even seem to think they can dictate how and when our members can take legal action. They’re wrong about that as well. So Unite will defend the jobs, pay and conditions of our striking refuse drivers to the hilt.”

Further strikes are scheduled in early 2022, with a 48 hour strike set to begin on Wednesday 5 January, and then a further four days of strike action from Tuesday 11 January until Friday 14 January.

The dispute is a result of the council being unwilling to increase the pay of its refuse collection drivers. Their basic pay is as little as £22,183 per annum and it takes 11 years of service to reach the top of the pay scale.

This is at a time when wages for HGV drivers are rapidly increasing due to severe shortages and when the retail price index (RPI) now stands at 7.1 per cent.

The poverty pay rates paid to refuse collection drivers are in sharp contrast to the highly lucrative earnings of Coventry coucil’s chief executive Martin Reeves, who receives £191,036 a year, putting him very high up in the Town Hall rich list.

The council is also trying to make last minute changes to the refuse workers' contracts, via a buy-out option that would make working over the Christmas period compulsory, when for the previous 20 years this has been covered on a voluntary basis.

Unite was locked in talks with the council yesterday (Tuesday 14 December) but these were described as unproductive due to the councils high handed nature and their refusal to actually negotiate about the ongoing dispute.

Unite regional officer Simon OKeeffe said: “Strike action is being taken as a last resort by our members. They undertake a highly skilled and challenging role, and can’t survive on poverty rates of pay any longer – especially when workers are facing a growing cost of living crisis due to surging inflation rates. 

“Coventry council has the ability to resolve this dispute and avert huge disruption to residents bin collections but it needs to bring fresh proposals to the table, which tackle our members legitimate concerns.”

Feelings among the workforce have been further heightened due to several of the ruling Labour group on Coventry council issuing highly unhelpful posts on social media about the dispute.