Kitcat Won’t Give Workers a Break

Posted: May 7, 2013 in Strike, UK
Hundreds of Brighton bin workers, members of the GMB, are occupying their canteen in protest at a £4,000 pay cut proposed by the city's Green-led Council.

Hundreds of Brighton bin workers, members of the GMB, are occupying their canteen in protest at a £4,000 pay cut proposed by the city’s Green-led Council.

Yesterday, after months of negotiations, Brighton and Hove City Council revealed its plans for how it would make changes to its system of allowances and expenses to staff. This morning, bin men and street sweepers gave their response by occupying their canteen and refusing to work after the details of a pay review were revealed.

Refuse and recycling staff at Hollingdean depot are to lose up to £4,000 a year. So at 7am this morning, no vehicles left the Hollingdean depot. After workers were told how the council’s offer would affect them, they said that they wanted to discuss the issue with the council’s chief executive Penny Thompson and council leader Jason Kitcat before “even considering working”.

The proposal will affect over 260 workers at City Clean and looks to see street sweepers, one of the lowest paid roles in the Council, will have their annual salary cut by 25%. In a statement to the Brighton and Hove Council, GMB, the union representing the affected workers said “Based on the information we have been given verbally today, it still shows that members of ours will still lose between £5 and £95 per week” This is exactly the same offer proposed months ago, before the negotiations even started.

A leaflet being passed around by GMB representatives said it would work so that staff did not give up “one penny”. Mark Turner, of GMB, said: “There’s not a single member of the workforce who does not support the union on this. At the end of the day they are very angry. I warned the council and the negotiators that this would and yet they just carried on. These are hard working low-paid people who, if this goes ahead, could be faced with making the choice of putting food on the table or paying their rent.”

Mr Turner added the union had permission to ballot for strike action “as and when” it felt that there was no other option. Elected politicians handed over control of negotiations to unelected officers at a council meeting in January. Labour voted against the move but the Conservatives, along with four members of the Green minority administration voted for the plan. The Green Party candidates were elected on a pledge to resist all cuts. One Green councillor is taking this seriously, Mike Jones has said that if these cuts are imposed then he will be forced to leave his party. One refuse worker, who had worked at the depot for 25 years, speaking to Sussex University paper The Argus this morning said: “The Greens are bottling out. They are getting other people to do their work for them. They have not got the guts to do their job.” The council took back the running of the refuse service a few years ago after a strike force private contractor SITA to exit.

The council’s final offer was announced yesterday and a 90-day consultation into the proposal will now take place. Ms Thompson said: “These proposals will have little impact on most of the work force and will mean positive changes for the majority of staff affected. For those who will see a loss we have ensured that compensation will be provided. The negotiations have never been about making savings. This is however about making sure that we are a council fit for purpose with a fair, consistent and affordable pay and allowances system alongside a clear agenda to provide efficient, quality services which benefit everyone.”

Unauthorised strike action is an inspiring act, it promotes workers self-organisation and empowers workers to fight for better conditions and oppose cuts. The Brighton bin workers are refusing to accept attacks on their pay and need our full support and solidarity.

Messages of support and solidarity would be very welcome, and can be sent to: hollysmither@hotmail.co.uk

(This article is also available on http://www.internationalsocialistnetwork.org)

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