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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