After twelve weeks of strikes, Unite members have agreed a deal to settle a long-running dispute over changes to waste management services in Birmingham. On balance, this has to be considered a victory for the workers. The Labour council have agreed to withdraw proposed redundancies in exchange for giving the affected workers new job titles and duties.
Grade 3 workers will now be promoting recycling among residents but still be working on bin lorries and maintaining their current grade, pay and conditions. In addition a victimised shop steward will be reinstated, unions will be included in a forum on future changes to the waste management service, and there will be no changes for at least 15 months. The concession the union has made is to agree to a five-day working week, but there will be no increase in working hours. The council has also agreed to pay Unite’s legal costs.
They have spent over £6 million of public money in an attempt to defeat the action and break the union. The local authority’s leader, Cllr Ian Ward, said the deal had been struck after the council had reached “a legally-sound position, going through the governance processes which we must follow”. Unite meanwhile described the agreement as “a victory for common sense”.
The dispute dated back to June this year, when the union warned that proposals for changes to the service could lead to the loss of more than 100 jobs and pay cuts of up to £5,000. The tactics that Unite and the workers opted for – one-hour stoppages each day involving a return back to depots on each stoppage – proved to be effective in creating maximum disruption. This approach also minimised the loss in strikers’ pay and retained a limited service under the effective control of the workers. Under the new proposal, the grade three bin loader role, which was to be deleted, will now be retained.
However, this will be with a change of job title and added responsibilities such as data collection for refuse compliance. Refuse workers will transition to the new roles in February 2018. They will also move from a 4-day week to a five-day week. In the present industrial climate, we can properly call this a victory – but we shouldn’t exaggerate the extent of the victory, as some are doing.
Living wage boost at Nottingham University
University of Nottingham has agreed to pay the Living Wage to its lowest paid employees for 2017-18. This boost to the pay of cleaners and catering workers comes after a lively campaign by campus unions, UCU, Unison and Unite, and students, including the students’ union.
We took the opportunity of a new Vice Chancellor arriving to renew our push for the University become an accredited employer with the Living Wage Foundation (LWF). Each year the University has been raising the lowest wage in line with the new LWF only from August to November. When the new living wage is set in November, University pay has fallen behind again.
This November we held a big protest that got TV and newspaper coverage, and we invited the VC to do a shift with the cleaners (she has declined the invitation). Responding to the adverse publicity, the University has now raised the lowest wage for November-August to the updated rate, £8.75. Unison and Unite still have to vote on the offer, but we are celebrating our partial victory of a nine months’ pay boost for our lowest paid workers. Our campaign is far from over, as pay is only part of the picture.
The University has also been increasing the amount of work cleaners must do, through freezing recruitment, and they want to end the flexible hours cleaners have been able to work. Many need to start early so they can finish early to go to their second job (sometimes within the same university). The University are still holding out against becoming an accredited living wage employer. They argue that they don’t want to relinquish control over setting their pay rates to an outside body.
We argue that a rich institution like the University needs to demonstrate its commitment always to treat its lowest paid employees with respect. Fifty-six HE institutions have signed up, including Oxford University. And, of course, looking at the bigger picture, an incoming Labour government enacting its pledge of a £10 minimum wage would blow any such quibbling out of the water.
Picturehouse workers Star Wars strike planned
Workers at Picturehouse cinemas will strike again on Thursday 14 December. The strike is to disrupt the opening night of Star Wars: the last Jedi, one of Picturehouse′s biggest revenue-raisers in the year.
Workers at the Ritzy in Brixton, and Hackney, Crouch End, East Dulwich, and Central Picturehouses will strike. Workers will also strike on 24 and 26 December. Management has in the past scheduled strikers to work on those days, rather than non-strikers, meaning they don′t get a Christmas break. Community supporters of the strikers have called a weekend of action for 15-17 December and will be organising community pickets and protests at Picturehouses and Cineworld cinemas across the country.
DPD drivers “strike”
Over fifty members of the GMB protested outside the Carmyle (Glasgow) depot of the DPD parcel delivery firm on Tuesday 5 December as part of their Scotland-wide campaign over working hours and rates of pay.
DPD has introduced cuts in the sliding scale of delivery rates and additional obligatory weekend working. According to the GMB, the latter breaches the EU Working Time Directive. The GMB members, who are all Owner-Driver-Franchisees (ODFs), have also reported being forced to drive overloaded vehicles, being overcharged for work done on the vehicles which they lease from DPD, and being charged for work which was either not necessary or not done.
DPD treats the ODFs as self-employed, despite the fact that ODFs cannot determine their working days and working hours, nor what route they use for deliveries. DPD allows them to take just two non-consecutive and unpaid weeks off work each year. ODFs are also subject to a £150 ″breach charge″ if they take an unauthorised day off due to sickness or bereavement or do anything else which DPD classes as a breach of contract.
Because ODFs are self-employed, the event were a protest rather than a picket, and ″24 hours non-availability for work″ rather than a one-day strike. Ironically, the fact that the ODFs are classed by DPD as self-employed meant that GMB members had no need to overcome the obstructions to picketing and strike action imposed by the Tories’ anti-union laws.
So far, attempts by the GMB to meet with DPD have either been ignored or refused. But the level of support for last Tuesday’s activities and the rapid increase in GMB membership in DPD is evidence of the increasing pressure on DPD to back down.
Bus strikes suspended
As Solidarity went to press on 5 December, the latest strikes on Arriva North West bus services have been suspended for talks.
Workers were due to strike on Thursday 7 December as part of a programme of nine strikes in December. The strikes may still go ahead if talks fail. The workers, members of Unite, work on buses in the Liverpool, Merseyside, Manchester, Lancashire or Cheshire. They are fighting for a pay rise and for differentials in pay between garages to be addressed by levelling up pay. Workers struck on 20 and 27 November, and 4 December, and had planned strikes on 7, 12, 13, 14, 20, 21, 22 and 23 December.
Deliveroo wildcat strike
On Saturday 25 November Deliveroo workers in Brighton took part in a wildcat strike over low wages. Wages have steadily been dropping for Deliveroo workers in Brighton, as Deliveroo is deliberately flooding the system with more drivers than are needed, meaning they don′t get as many jobs each.
With workers being paid only £4 per delivery, often workers don′t make the minimum wage in an hour. Workers also picketed the newly opened ″Deliveroo Editions″ kitchens and organised a convey around the city. Some workers are members of the IWGB union, which is demanding a pay rise of £1 to £5 a drop, a hiring freeze, and no victimisation of striking workers.
Teachers strike over workload
Workers at Westways Primary School in Sheffield voted overwhelmingly to strike on 6, 7, 12 and 13 December against reforms which will worsen excessive workload and increase scrutiny of teachers.
Sam Fearnehough, the school’s executive head (read: off-site manager), claimed that her reforms ″are already having a positive impact″ and that ″a majority of staff are very happy with the support and training they have received to implement new ways of teaching″. So happy indeed that they have voted overwhelmingly for strikes and issued a statement through Sheffield National Education Union (NEU) stating that ″the changes are having a direct impact on the children’s educational experience and are making many staff members lose trust in their own school.″
Parents and supporters held a rally at the school on Friday 1 December and a solidarity meeting on the 5 December will hear from a Westways School worker.