Unite slams “shameful” Labour council as HGV drivers begin two-month strike

Elliot Chappell
© paul rushton/Shutterstock.com

Sharon Graham has described a Labour local authority’s handling of a dispute with its refuse collection HGV drivers as “shameful”, saying the council has failed to deliver on its promises as workers began a two-month strike on Monday.

Following months of industrial action over pay, the general secretary said this week that the union would be “unwavering” in getting a “fair deal” for its members. Strike action has so far only lasted days at a time, but some residents have reportedly not had their bins collected for up to five weeks as a result of the disruption.

Union representatives said they met with Coventry council’s leadership last Monday and were promised a new offer would be made by the authority, and that they were later told an offer would be made by Friday, but that no deal was suggested.

“It is shameful that Coventry council reneged on a promise to table a fresh offer, which could have ended this dispute. Coventry residents should be demanding answers about what on earth the council is playing at. They are constantly saying one thing then doing another,” Sharon Graham said today.

“Unite does what it says on the trade union tin and it always puts the jobs, pay and conditions of its members first. The union will be unwavering in its support for our members in Coventry getting a fair deal on a regrading.”

70 Coventry City Council refuse collection HGV drivers are participating in the industrial action. They are currently paid between £11.49 and £14.37 per hour, which Unite said is below comparable rates of pay for HGV drivers in the region.

Coventry City Council told LabourList that it made two offers last week: a tax-free payment of £4,000 for working the week of Christmas and to increase pay for HGV drivers at the lower end so that no driver starts on less than £12.45 per hour.

A council spokesperson argued that it is “therefore untrue to say that we have reneged on a promise to make a revised offer” and said the authority is “one of the highest paying in the West Midlands when comparing pay for bin lorry drivers”.

They added: “This can be further evidenced by the recently celebrated Eastbourne deal for bin drivers where unions agreed a new flat rate of £12.50 per hour for all drivers, rising to £13.50 per hour in April 2023.”

Both the council and Unite have agreed to bound by ACAS arbitration on the proposed increase in pay. “We have addressed all of the concerns that Unite has raised and made offers,” the spokesperson said.

“We therefore remain disappointed Unite has refused to suspend strike action or allow exemptions to provide a service for the most vulnerable residents of our city such as those in care homes.”

Coventry South Labour MP Zarah Sultana told LabourList that she has written to council leader George Duggins, urging him to “enter negotiations on a proposal that would address the concerns raised by the workers and bring the dispute to a close”.

“I want to see this dispute resolved as quickly and equitably as possible, which is why I have been pushing for a deal to be reached to end the strike,” she said.

“I have continued to make this case, meeting with councillors and officers and imploring them to get round the table and consider a new offer, enabling refuse collections to begin as normal. I will continue to make this case, advocating for a resolution that puts the interests of Coventry residents and workers first.”

Coventry North West MP Taiwo Owatemi told LabourList that her “number one priority has been to see both sides get around the table and negotiate” and that she will continue to “push for an agreement and an end to this dispute”.

“We need a deal which delivers both the return of regular bin collections for my constituents, and which delivers the pay and conditions that bin lorry drivers deserve. Everyone wants drivers to receive a decent wage and residents to receive the best possible service,” the Labour MP added.

“I know that strike action is a last resort and that both the City Council and Unite want this industrial action to end as soon as possible. I am sure that a deal which works for both sides can be achieved and I urge them to work together.”

Temporary waste collection sites have been opened across Coventry City, allowing residents to drop off refuse. Unite has accused the authority of “ignoring the law” to undermine the industrial action by also bringing in agency workers.

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