Tower Hamlets Council: Refuse workers and street cleaners to cause ‘major disruption’ with two-week strike

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Unite is calling on the local authority to improve on the current pay offer of a flat rate increase of £1,925.

More than 200 east London refuse workers and street cleaners are set to go on a two-week strike in a dispute over pay.

Unite has announced members at Tower Hamlet Council will be taking action after rejecting the national local government pay offer of a flat rate increase of £1,925.

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The union said individual local authorities can still choose to pay a higher rate to workers, and is calling on Tower Hamlets to improve its offer, which it adds is below the rate of inflation.

The strike is to begin on September 18, and will run until October 1. Unite said the move will “cause major disruption to bin collections and street cleaning services in Tower Hamlets”.

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “Our members provide critical frontline council services. Despite the essential roles our members undertake their employer thinks it is acceptable to propose what amounts to yet another real terms pay cut, at a time when they increasingly can’t make ends meet.

“Unite never takes a backward step in supporting its members and is dedicated to enhancing their jobs, pay and conditions. Unite will be providing members at Tower Hamlets with its complete support.”

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The union’s regional officer Nick West added: “The proposed strike action will inevitably cause major disruption to bin collections and street cleaning services in Tower Hamlets. This dispute is a direct result of local government employers failing to value workers and failing to reward them for their hard work.”

Tower Hamlets Council’s town hall in Whitechapel. Credit: Ben Lynch.Tower Hamlets Council’s town hall in Whitechapel. Credit: Ben Lynch.
Tower Hamlets Council’s town hall in Whitechapel. Credit: Ben Lynch.

A Tower Hamlets Council spokesperson said: “Naturally we are disappointed by the strike as keeping Tower Hamlets’ streets clean and litter free is our priority. The strike will affect key frontline staff and we are prevented from bringing in additional resource during this time. We will be reallocating existing staff and doing our best to maintain a level of service for residents.

“During this time, we will be asking residents to help by trying to reduce household waste and where possible reusing or donating any useable unwanted items. People are also encouraged to take their rubbish to the Reuse and Recycling centre in Yabsley Street.”

Tower Hamlets Labour councillor Asma Begum, who is also the shadow cabinet member for the environment and climate, added: “It will be deeply concerning for residents to learn that [mayor] Lutfur Rahman’s waste emergency is set to get worse.

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“For weeks, low pay, short-staffing and poor working conditions have left residents without a functioning waste service. So, it is no surprise that workers have decided to reject what would be real terms pay cut and take industrial action.”

A survey carried out in June this year of Unite members working at councils across the country found 48% have struggled to afford bills including heating and electricity, and 23% are skipping meals.

Unite members at 23 local authorities have voted for industrial action, which the union said “will escalate next month and throughout the autumn”.

Council members at the GMB union are also due to be ballotted, a spokesperson told LondonWorld, though they are “a fair way from strike action”.

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