Bin strikes east London: Newham refuse worker strike cancelled but Tower Hamlets action continues

A walkout by refuse workers in Newham has been cancelled, but the strike in Tower Hamlets continues to see rubbish piling up.
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A strike by refuse workers in Newham has been headed off, but action in Tower Hamlets continues and rubbish is piling up.

The union Unite says a council-wide pay deal of an extra £750 for all low paid Newham workers has been agreed.

More than 100 refuse workers from Newham rejected the national pay offer of a flat rate increase of £1,925 - and were due to walk out between September 25 and October 22.

All workers on grades 1 to 3 will now receive the £750 payment on top of the Local Government Association national pay deal.

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “Unite members are staging a fightback. As a result, low paid workers across the whole of Newham council have secured a payment of £750.

“It just goes to show what workers can achieve when supported with the full force of their union, Unite, and a council that is prepared to listen.

“This is a clear message to Tower Hamlets that the council has the power to end the ongoing strike.

Rubbish was seen piled up along Whitechapel Road just two days into the strike by refuse workers at Tower Hamlets Council. Credit: Ben Lynch.Rubbish was seen piled up along Whitechapel Road just two days into the strike by refuse workers at Tower Hamlets Council. Credit: Ben Lynch.
Rubbish was seen piled up along Whitechapel Road just two days into the strike by refuse workers at Tower Hamlets Council. Credit: Ben Lynch.

The national agreement for local government workers sets out minimum standards, but Unite says local authorities can choose to pay a higher rate.

More than 200 Tower Hamlets Council workers downed tools on September 18 after rejecting the national pay offer. The strike is due to run until October 15.

Mounds of rubbish have been piling up in the street, including in Whitechapel Road, next to Tower Hamlets Council’s town hall.

A Tower Hamlets Council spokesperson previously said: “We have been informed by Unite that their members will continue to strike for another two weeks after October 1. Naturally we are disappointed as keeping Tower Hamlets’ streets clean and litter free is our priority.

“The strike is over a national pay dispute and this is not something we can negotiate at a local level. However, we have been in discussions with union representatives before and during the strike and remain hopeful of a resolution.

“We have reallocated all non-striking staff to help clear waste and have a number of vehicles ready to make collections, but so far these have been blocked from leaving the depot every time by strikers. We are assessing the health and safety risks on a daily basis.”

One of the mounds of rubbish was so big it was being referred to as “Mount Everest”. Credit: Jack Abela.One of the mounds of rubbish was so big it was being referred to as “Mount Everest”. Credit: Jack Abela.
One of the mounds of rubbish was so big it was being referred to as “Mount Everest”. Credit: Jack Abela.

According to Unite, Newham Council has agreed:

  • A one-off cost of living payment of £750 to the lowest paid workers across the council (grades 1-3)
  • A continued retention payment to HGV drivers up to 2026
  • Permanent jobs given to agency workers in refuse department
  • A council commitment work with Unite to review the night shift premium and refuse worker grading
  • Improvements to local consultation processes

A spokesperson for Newham Council said: “After intense negotiations, I am pleased to confirm that we have avoided industrial action that would have caused disruption and significant cost to the council at a time of real financial pressure. Through collaborative discussions we have been able to avert strike action and demonstrate our commitment to open consultation and the strength of our relationship with our workforce.

“I would like to thank Unite and all colleagues involved for working constructively and collaboratively to resolve this dispute. Whilst Unite continue to be in negotiation relating to the national annual pay deal they raised local matters which, if resolved, could put an end to the dispute and cease any action. We listened and were able to meet the majority of the requests made. We are determined to be an employer of choice and we will be completing a full review of employee terms and conditions later this year to ensure that we benchmark well and can attract and retain valued employees.”