Bexley residents have been warned to prepare for ‘summer stink’ as Serco refuse workers prepare to vote in a strike ballot in a dispute over pay and poor treatment of workers, Unite, the UK’s leading union, said today. 

Workers balloting

Around 140 Unite members will take part in the vote, which has been called over a ‘pathetic’ 1.5 per cent pay offer, 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 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.

Contract doubt

The council, which makes a decision about whether to continue to award the contract to Serco later this month, should be asking Serco why the waste service in Bexley is in such disarray, with dismal industrial relations and a poor service to residents.

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. 

Low pay rates

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. 

Testing concerns

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 this has been done in order target workers for standing up for themselves as the tests were not linked to any reported safety issues. 

The ballot opens today (Tuesday 1 June) and closes Monday 28 June.

Workers anger

Unite regional officer Ruth Hydon said: “Unless Serco changes tack, Bexley residents could be facing the prospect of a summer stink as rubbish goes uncollected. 

 “Our members’ anger at Serco’s insulting pay offer, refusal to pay significant amounts of owed back wages and low pay in general, is such that Unite has called a strike ballot.

 “Feelings are also running very high at Serco’s vindictive and unnecessary use of drug testing to go after staff for standing up for themselves, particularly as the company has offered absolutely no support to staff who may be struggling.  

 “Rubbish piled high at the height of summer is something no one wants, but unless Serco satisfactorily addresses our members’ concerns, that is what the people of Bexley could be facing.”

 ENDS 

 Notes to editors:

During the coronavirus crisis Unite is working to keep workers and the public safe, to defend jobs and to protect incomes.

For media enquiries ONLY please contact Unite senior communications officer Barckley Sumner on 07802 329235 or 0203 371 2067.

Email: [email protected]

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