A view from the other side….
I was lucky enough to be able to speak to one of the GMB’s Branch Secretary’s in Leeds, Steve Terrington, this morning regarding the ongoing dispute with the council between it and refuse collection workers. Firstly, Steve made a point that I would think is relevant to any industrial dispute; that nobody wants to go on strike and that the last thing that the strikers want is for the public to suffer due to the action;
“Nobody ever wants to strike. We are residents of Leeds and we all want Leeds clean and tidy. We don’t want people to get ill; that is not our intention.”
However, the strike was a last resort as people looked to defend their pay and living standards. Responding to the point that the current deal does not expire for 18 months Steve said that this issue needed to be resolved now as the proposed cut in wages was so drastic that it would mean people having to sell homes, cars etc. Also, for those coming-up to retirement it would effect their pensions.
I raised some specific points put by the council and opponents of the strike regarding productivity and sickness. Currently the council wants the bin men to achieve a target of 220 bins per hour (from the current 196) but the reason this was not felt practicable was that properties have side-avenues and different areas presented differing challenges (eg, terraced housing).
He challenged the council to produce the figures on which they based the claim that this was a standard efficiency level for the area. Other figures for major cities include; Bristol 200; Manchester 202; Liverpool 175; Sheffield 200 and Newcastle at 200. Speaking from first-hand experience I can attest to this because rubbish has no bin and has to be left down the side of my own house. At my last address I also had no bin and bins were frequently ‘shared’ between households. So, it is certainly true that this issue is not as cut-and-dry as the council make it out to be; regarding the issue of bin men leaving early, ‘frequently before lunchtime’, Steve said this masks the fact that starts can be as early as 5.30 and regarding improper collection he urged anybody whose bin was left in the wrong place to report it but mentioned that this could be agency staff as they are “normally employed to cover sickness”.
Turning to the issue of sickness he pointed out that the 30-day figure bandied about was an average and that those with serious health problems would increase this average. At the end of the day, he argued this was management’s responsibility to manage and that this was not happening at the moment; for example, return to work interviews were not happening promptly. Furthermore, those who were long-term sick were not seen by management nor any issues causing this addressed.
Some people have claimed that the rank-and-file have been misled by the union leadership but, pointing to the recent overwhelming rejection of the councils last offer, Steve insisted things were very much the other way round. The rank-and-file is leading and the leadership is offering it’s full support. Similarly, while the Labour Party was supporting the strikers it was not in any way manipulating the rank-and-file. However, the strike has politicised those involved;
People realise the impact politics has on their day-to-day life.
Contrary to the impression generated; levels of public support Steve claimed were high. He cited a recent collection near Meanwood Household Waste Sorting site for the strike fund which raised £4,000. Support came from people “from all walks of life”; 800-1000 cars pass through the area and Steve said that It was nice to see that; “the public was fully aware of the issues”. The level of public support was keeping moral high and the council have been;
“shocked by the determination of the strikers”
He said that he felt that other councils were watching the outcome of the dispute so he felt that the strike was also for other low-paid workers. Overall, I stand-by my sympathy and support for the Leeds bin strikes and continue to wish them well and I hope this piece has illuminated another side to the dispute.