Why I sympathise with binmen on strike in Leeds….
Tomorrow refuse collection workers in Leeds will vote on a new proposed deal aimed at ending the stand-off between workers represented by Unison and the GMB. Hopefully, a swift resolution to the ongoing dispute will be found though it is clear that in order to do so, the council has to address the legitimate grievance expressed by the striking workers. Given that part of the settlement is to offer to minimise the pay reductions to as little as £200 one has to question legitimately the councils claim that to meet these demands council tax would have to increase by 18%. Such a claim also comes into question when you consider the ‘grading’ exercise ratcheted the vast majority of those ‘graded’ upwards.
However, I am not surprised that the unions are not recommending acceptance given the strings that are attached to the deal some of which strike me as very unreasonable. Take, for example, the council’s request that the payment of the top-up bonuses be linked to a reduction in sickness absenteeism. Although it seems reasonable enough ask yourself this; when was the last time that you were in a job where your collective conditions were subject to a reduction in individual sickness rates? As was rightly pointed out yesterday in the Yorkshire Evening Post by a striking worker; sickness and it’s regulation are actually the province and responsibility of management, not the responsibility of trade unions nor the workforce as a collective. If sickness rates are high and incorrectly policed that is the responsibility and failing of management not the workforce.
Sadly, the attachment of such conditions has typified the coalition councils approach which at times has been confrontational, antagonistic and unhelpful; underpinned as it is by the somewhat paranoid view that this is some kind of political attack on the council. It has also been aggravated by those writing into the local paper condemning the striking workers as ‘pathetic’ and therefore seeking to de-legitimise their legitimate grievance and by implication fanning the flames of the dispute.
Given the mentality that this question has been addressed with, not from viewing the strikers as having a legitimate grievance; which they do, it is hardly surprising that the council has acted in this way. It has been too quick to find fault with the workers themselves and not quick enough to look into potential wider structural failings in management like those raised by Darryl Lowe regarding managements mis-handling of sickness;
Darryl Lowe, 44, said monitoring sick days was up to management and at the moment, “they don’t do a very good job”, leaving binmen to take weeks and months off at a time without following up on doctors’ notes.
In the same article; the strikers repudiated, rightly, a minority who have taken things too far;
The binmen hit out at people who have used ‘dirty tactics’ during the strike, including dumping rubbish on the doorstep of council leader Richard Brett, and leaving threatening messages on his home answerphone.
“That wasn’t us,” said Mr Hunter. “We’ve been very peaceful. All we’re trying to do out here is let the public know what’s happening. The police have been here everyday but there’s been no violence. That’s not what it’s about.”
Of course, such things should be condemned and the people who did it will hopefully soon find themselves isolated and marginalised within the unions themselves. At the end of the day the unions are raising legitimate concerns and issues and therefore as a minimum deserve consideration not vilification.