Waste workers ready to strike ‘sooner rather than later’ unless demands met

Waste workers are calling for paid sick leave and a wage increase from contractor Urbaser
By Victoria Munro

An astounding 96% of members are willing to go on strike (credit: GMB)
An astounding 96% of members are willing to go on strike (credit: GMB)

Waltham Forest’s waste workers are ready to stop collecting rubbish “sooner rather than later” if their demands for a pay rise and paid sick leave are not met.

A spokesperson from GMB union said 96% of the borough’s waste staff in either GMB or Unite voted yesterday that they are willing to strike, adding he was “astounded by the level of anger”.

The borough’s waste collection is run for Waltham Forest Council by contractor Urbaser, who are currently in negotiations with workers but have offered “nowhere near” what they expect.

Earlier this year, rubbish collectors protested outside the town hall to mark their anger at being treated “like second-class citizens” by the company, who took over the borough’s waste contract two years ago.

A meeting of union members (credit: GMB)

Michael Dooley, from GMB, told the Echo he had “never seen” so many workers willing to strike before.

He said that Urbaser’s latest offer was a 7% wage increase this year followed by a 3% increase next year, which was so meagre that he felt the company was “actively trying to provoke trouble”.

He also said the “Dickensian” refusal to introduce a scheme for paid sick leave meant staff “cannot afford to take time off work to recover from ill health”.

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Staff shortages due to rising Covid cases was one of many reasons Waltham Forest Council initially planned to suspend brown bin collections last month, before U-turning 24 hours later after resident uproar.

Waste workers protesting outside the town hall in January (credit: LDRS)

A local waste worker said: “We work in all weathers 365 days a year, with filth and grime, potentially hazardous viruses and bacteria. Therefore we run a high risk of being ill because of the type of work we do. 

“I was off work for four months and did not get paid any money from the company where I have worked for 12 years. I feel like just a number to the company, so we must stand up for ourselves and stick together.” 

The union plans to meet with members this Friday to discuss whether to “call it quits on discussions” with Urbaser and Michael hinted strikes could “happen sooner rather than later”. 

Urbaser has yet to respond to a request for comment.

Waltham Forest Council’s deputy leader Clyde Loakes said the council and all its contractors, including Urbaser, pay the London Living Wage but recognise that “many people are concerned about the rising cost of living”.

He said: “We are working hard to ensure that anyone employed by the council or its contractors receive a fair wage and at the same time safeguard tax-payers’ money to fund essential services that the community increasingly relies upon.

“Talks are ongoing between Urbaser and the union representatives. The council has not received any additional government funding to cope with the cost-of-living crisis that our staff and our contractors are facing.”

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