Stench of Leeds bin strike may spread

Industrial action by bin men and women in Leeds has become national news, with the Financial Times reporting that councils across the country are watching closely with fears growing that other public sector workers will become disgruntled by the prospect of pay cuts, and changes to working patterns and conditions.

It is now six weeks since bin men and women walked out in a dispute over Leeds council’s use of equal pay laws to cut the wages of a number of its staff, as discussed at length by Left Foot Forward last month.

Since then fears have grown that the increasing piles of rubbish across the city will lead to serious health consequences. GMB Union leader, Paul Kenny, has indicated that the strikes could continue until Christmas and talks between the Unions and the city council have failed to reach agreement between the two sides.

The strike in Leeds is the result of “single status” equal pay rules that every council has to implement. The industrial action has become national news, with the Financial Times reporting that councils across the country are watching closely with fears growing that other public sector workers will become disgruntled by the prospect of pay cuts, and changes to working patterns and conditions.

Already, workers at Birmingham City Council have gone on strike over the equal pay legislation, with workers at Nottinghamshire County council having taken the unpredicted step of making a formal complaint against their union for failing to stand up for them during the same process of job and wages evaluation. With predictions that the imminent postal strikes will cause chaos in the run up to Christmas, and the government is set to face a winter of discontented public servants. Such discontent and anxiety is likely to grow as a result of both Alistair Darling and George Osborne’s decisions to use public sector pay freezes as a way of addressing the budget deficit.

A few observations should be made. First, why should councils use rules designed to equalise pay between men and women to cut salaries of some of the most important, yet underpaid, front line public servants. Second, while pay freezes are certainly an option, it has become uncomfortable to see how casually pay cuts and freezes are being spoken about at a time when many hard pressed families are finding it difficult to make ends meet.

In the field of environmental protection, the principle of the “polluter pays” is used to ensure those who damage the environment should be responsible for clearing it up. Given that the global economic storm has its roots in the greed and reckless lending of bankers, perhaps the “polluter pays” principle should be applied to the current situation.

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2 Responses to “Stench of Leeds bin strike may spread”

  1. Bob Piper

    “First, why should councils use rules designed to equalise pay between men and women to cut salaries of some of the most important, yet underpaid, front line public servants.”

    Well, sadly, because that’s the bloody daft agreement the unions signed up to in 1997. I disagreed with it then, and said so vehemently within UNISON, only to be castigated and called ultra left by the combination of communists and social democrats who agreed with it.

    The agreement was signed to try to avoid low paid women workers suing their employers under equal pay legislation. In order to avoid what they referred to as the spectre of council’s going bust, the unions agreed to pay for it by taking money of the male workers. I said then that it would by and large be the low paid males financing the rises of the low paid women, instead of the employers righting their own wrongs.

    When a similar deal was struck in the NHS – Agenda for Change – the unions woke up, and the government was made to stump up.

  2. Ian Waterhouse

    With the Leeds bin strike now into its 8th week, frustration at the seemingly random nature of the collection service is rising. Speculation over how Leeds City Council are determining which areas need their rubbish to be collected has lead to the many questioning the rubbish collectors on their rounds and angry calls to the council. It is rumoured that rather than taking the time to assess the areas on the basis of need Leeds City Council are actually relying upon complaint volumes received to determine local need, the theory being that those most in need will complain the most and this will act as a natural barometer for the council. However this would seem to be a high risk tactic for the council to take and raises serious questions about the fairness of their policy. Leeds City Council has declined to comment.

    Complaints to Leeds city council can be registered via phone on: 0113 222 4444 or 0113 222 4406 via their website at:

    http://www.leeds.gov.uk/Do_It_Online/Contact_us/Complaints_and_compliments_to_Leeds_City_Council__online_form.aspx

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