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.

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About darrellgoodliffe

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4 responses to “Why I sympathise with binmen on strike in Leeds….”

  1. ralph says :

    Darrell
    If you belive that pay should be equal for people doing work of equal value (and you should), what do you think unskilled workers such as refuse collectors should be paid? Obviously the Labour Government thinks they should only be paid the minimum wage (by contrast, see below for the amount Leeds Council is currently offering the strikers).
    As you know, the refuse workers in Leeds take an average of 30 days’ paid sick leave each year (in contrast to a council average of 11 days and a private industry average of 5). What you have also been told – as everyone in Leeds knows – is that when an employee calls in sick, another employee not working that day’s rota is phoned and asked if they will come in on overtime (1.5 times their pay rate). This gives them an average of 6 weeks at home on top of four week’s holidays, and plenty of overtime for everyone. No-one thinks they’re all that sick. With only a few hundred refuse workers nearly all doing this, the overtime bill makes Leeds’ refuse collection one of the most expensive in the country. What you also know is that many of the bin crews do not work a full day but knock off at lunchtime. The number of bins wheeled to the trucks by Leeds binmen (they don’t have to lift anything) is amongst the lowest in the country. These ‘spanish practices’ are what the shop stewards have been defending, and why they are recommending rejection of the council’s current offer of £18.5k per annum for a 37 hour week. Can you find an unskilled labour job anywhere else paying as much? Thought not.

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  2. darrellgoodliffe says :

    Ralph,

    I do indeed believe that but do not accept that ‘levelling down’ is the way to do it. I don’t doubt your cynical view of the Labour government.

    And as I have said it is a failure of managment that these ‘spainish practices’ as you call them continue, it should follow that if there is failings in that area that is where they need to be addressed not as part of a collective bargain with a trade union. You cannot hold a workforce collectively responsible for an average sick rate; it is patently wrong. Arguably, call centre work is ‘unskilled’ in that anybody can do it with the bare minimum of training and yes that can easily pay as much.

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  3. Damon says :

    I’ve only just picked up on this story due to the total lack of coverage in the National Press (what’s all that about, I’m only in Manchester)? I don’t even know how much the council are suggesting they now pay the binmen. I do know that I would not be happy if I was told I had to take a paycut that affected my ability too meet my outgoings. I also know that these guys have the hideous job dealing with our waste, and this has traditionally been one of the better paid unskilled jobs due to this fact.

    It just ain’t on!

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  4. darrellgoodliffe says :

    Damon,

    I don’t know why the news has travelled so slowly to Manchester; however, I agree I would not be happy either and can totally understand their position.

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