Over 300 Brighton and Hove bin workers began an initial week of strike action today as the battle over threatened pay cuts brings refuse collection and street cleaning across the city to a standstill.
The council’s in-house CityClean staff voted 94 per cent in favour of flexing their industrial muscles with a series of walk outs as the Tory-run council attempts to slash workers’ wages by up to £8,000 each.
Echoing the equal pay dispute taking place in Leeds, now in its 10th week of strike action, workers are being told they could lose up to 20 per cent of their annual salary as a solution to the Single Status Agreement that was designed to solve pay inequality.
With thousands of mainly female council workers having been underpaid for years, by councils across the country, the deal was seen as a means of solving the problem. But instead of bringing everyone up to the top rate, Brighton and Hove City Council aim to axe the wages of those on higher pay to get out of owing the lowest paid a better deal.
Dave Russell, a GMB steward at the depot, said on a lively and well supported picket: “The council have known that they were going to have to do something about this for more than 12 years, since 1997. It’s the employer’s fault that they’ve underpaid council workers for years, not CityClean workers. So why should we have to pay for the council’s mistakes?”
Runa Pradey, one of many refuse workers on less than the average annual salary of just £16,000, said: “My pay is going to get cut by about £3,000 a year, in one go.
“There are workers here who aren’t going to be able to keep up with their mortgages and could lose their homes if these cuts happen. It’s disgusting!” she added.
“If the council want to cut wages, they can start with the new chief executive of the council who gets £170,000. I’m sure he could cope with losing £8,000 a year, but we can’t.”
Talks with the council are ongoing and GMB Brighton branch secretary Mark Turner is hopeful of a victory. “We’re meeting with the council and we’ll see what they have to say. We’ve got dates for action sorted for next week and the week after if talks don’t progress. But with the rubbish piling up across the city, so too will the pressure on the council.”
GMB Organiser Charles Harrity added: “GMB members know that the public is on their side in this bitter dispute and we will be establishing a strike fund for any member of the public who wishes to make a donation to the workers.”
Unison branch secretary Alex Knutson also joined the picket lines to offer his members’s support and solidarity. Council workers in Unison are also facing similar cuts to their pay because of the same plans regarding the Single Status plans with a ballot for industrial action imminent.
Alex Knutson said: “The council has prevaricated and delayed for 12 years. A situation which should have been resolved through negotiation over that time has now reached a point where confrontation appears to be inevitable. This is very regrettable but even at this time could be recovered.
“However, if the council leadership continue along this very dangerous path, Unison members will vote for strike action to defend their colleagues in their branch. Members are not militants but committed public sector workers forced to respond to an inept, disorganised and threatening management.”
General Secretary of Brighton, Hove and District Trades Council Bill North came down to the picket taking place outside the Hollingdean depot to offer support on behalf of the trades council and emphasised the role the local TUC body can play in helping workers.
He said: “Last week was the largest trades’ council meeting for several years with representatives from the GMB bin workers present to talk about the dispute. The trades council agreed unanimously to give them all the practical help and support we can."
“As far as we’re concerned, the role of trades councils and the TUC is to organise support for workers in struggle, not to play the part of trying to arbitrate between workers and management,” he added.
The mood is determined and confident on Brighton pickets with still a week of official action left in this round of industrial dispute. The workers are ready to stand firm and resist any attempt by the council to attack their pay and if they do so they will win as they have done in the past. This reflects the change in the mood workers over the last 12 months, from Visteon to Lyndsey, from ununionised workers in Vestas to national action by the CWU, from Leeds to Brighton, the fightback is beginning. Ordinary people are taking up the slogan, "We won't pay for the bosses crisis!"
Socialist Party members attending the pickets to give solidarity to the strikers were well received. They distributed leaflets on building political representation for the working class and took the local GMB's own leaflets to hand out to members of the public and gather support for the strike.
Peter Knight, Brighton Thursday branch
To read more about the Leeds bin workers strikes click here: