The long hot smelly summer of bin strikes in the south London borough of Bexley is set to continue as Unite the union, which represents the workforce, announced further industrial action.

Serco failure

Unite issued the additional strike dates as the contractor, controversial outsourcing giant Serco has failed to enter into negotiations. 

The strikes involving 140 refuse workers began on July 12 and the workers are now in their third week of strike action in a dispute over pay and the victimisation of workers.

Fresh strikes 

The fresh strike dates will see the workers walk out from Monday 9 August until Sunday 22 August. If these strikes go ahead as planned then the workers will have been on strike for a total of six weeks. 

Strikes are continuing despite Bexley council stripping Serco of the refuse collection contract which will be transferred to Countrystyle Recycling in October 2021.

Pay issues

As part of that deal the council has said that workers will be paid at least the London living wage of £10.85 an hour when the contract transfers. However pay rates remain vastly inferior to those in neighbouring Greenwich where refuse workers receive £13 an hour. 

The strikes are continuing as there are several unresolved matters. Around 50 staff are owed substantial back pay, with some workers owed thousands of pounds. This is due to Serco’s abject failure to pay workers according to stipulated pay scales. This has resulted in existing drivers being paid just £22,000 a year, while new recruits are paid £28,000 for the same roles. 

Workers victimised

Workers are also angry as Serco has weaponised its drug and alcohol testing policy in order to victimise union members, while failing to provide any advice or support to workers who are experiencing problems with substance misuse. 

Since the workers voted for strike action in late May, Serco has failed to enter into any negotiations to end the dispute. The company initially suggested utilising the services of the conciliation service Acas, which Unite agreed to, but Serco failed to progress talks. Unite contacted the company again last week about Acas talks to try to help resolve the dispute, but no dates have yet been agreed.

Bexley braced for fresh strikes

Unite regional officer Ruth Hydon, said: “Residents in Bexley need to brace themselves for further bin strikes throughout August.

“While this will cause further disruption this is entirely a result of Serco failing to resolve widespread pay issues and the mistreatment of its workers.

“Bexley council say it is desperate for the dispute to be resolved, but if it is serious then it needs to stop hand wringing and force its contractor into line. Bexley outsourced this contract to Serco and it can’t now pretend that this dispute isn’t of its own making. 

“Until action is taken on the grossly unfair pay disparities and action is taken to stop Serco managers victimising workers through its drug testing policies, strikes will continue.

“Since before strike action began Unite has been prepared to enter into negotiations, but it takes two to tango and Serco’s failure to commit to talks is a critical factor in prolonging this dispute.”