Unite has raised concerns of ‘heavy handed’ policing against striking Serco refuse workers in Bexley. The concerns about the policy coincided with Bexley council announcing that Serco has lost the multimillion-pound refuse collection and street cleaning contract for the borough.

Around 140 workers, who are members of Unite, began striking on 12 July, with the current round of strike action ending on 25 July. They have been holding daily pickets outside the Thames Road refuse depot in Crayford. 

Unite said police had intimidated the striking workers and have been heavy handed, despite the workers having a legal right to picket their workplace. Unite said this was a surprise because the union’s experience of the Metropolitan police during strikes is ‘generally positive’

After the strike began, Bexley council announced that Serco’s contract will not be renewed when it expires in October, with Countrystyle Recycling taking over instead. The council has pledged that staff on the contract, who will all be transferred from Serco, will be paid at least the London living wage in the future. 

Unite has consistently called for Serco to be removed from the contract and for staff to be paid properly. Serco refuse workers in Bexley earn much less than their counterparts in other areas of the capital. In neighbouring Greenwich refuse staff earn a minimum of £13 an hour, compared to just £10.25 paid by Serco in Bexley, which is below the London Living Wage.

While low pay was one of the reasons the workers voted to strike, the dispute also centres around Serco’s refusal to pay around 50 staff back wages, with some workers owed thousands of pounds. This is because the company has for half a decade failed to include refuse staff on a stipulated pay progression scale. This had led to widespread pay disparities, such as long serving drivers being paid £22,000 a year even when new drivers are recruited on £28,000 a year. 

In addition, Unite has accused Serco of victimising union members through the unfair policing of its substance misuse policy, while providing no help or advice for those who may need it. 

Unite regional officer Ruth Hydon said: “We are pleased the council has finally listened to Unite, ditched Serco from this contract and agreed to pay refuse and street cleaning workers a reasonable wage. 

“One element in this dispute has been won, but a number of other issues remain. Serco still owes our members tens of thousands in back pay and has not answered for the unfair use of its substance misuse policy to victimise staff. 

“Our members are well aware that Serco will now try to run down the clock until October so it can avoid paying what it owes and ignore the blatant weaponization of its drugs testing policy. It’s going to be a long hot stinking summer in Bexley if Serco’s bosses believe they can get away with it. 

“The ball is firmly in Serco’s court and Unite is more than happy to sit down for talks, but they must be meaningful. We urge Bexley council to intervene and ensure that Serco comes back with an offer our members can accept.

“We also want to be very clear to the police that their heavy-handed approach to a perfectly legal picket must stop. Our members have a right to withhold their labour and picket their workplace and it is simply not acceptable for the police to intimidate them. 

“This came as a major surprise because the union’s experiences of the Metropolitan police during strikes are generally positive, and the police are usually supportive of public sector workers.”


Bexley council warned ‘shoestring’ Serco refuse contract risks ‘years of industrial unrest’ as bin strikes begin

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Unite is Britain and Ireland’s largest union with members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Len McCluskey.