Bexley council warned ‘shoestring’ Serco refuse contract risks ‘years of industrial unrest’ as bin strikes begin

London TV

Unite the union warned Bexley council that its ‘shoestring’ refuse and street cleaning contract, which is run by Serco, risks ‘years of industrial unrest’ as two weeks of bin strikes began today (Monday 12 July).

The refuse and cleaning contract has recently been retendered by Bexley council. But Unite understands that Serco is the only bidder because the profit margins are so low.

Bexley council is facing financial difficulties and plans to reduce the contract by £2.5 million over five years – a move that Unite warned could result in ‘years of industrial unrest’ if staff bear the brunt.

The warning came as around 140 Serco refuse and cleaning workers, who are members of Unite, began striking from today until 25 July, with a picket line between 5am and 10am being held every weekday (see notes to editors for location).

Outsourcing giant Serco has failed for half a decade to include refuse and cleansing staff on a stipulated pay progression scale. The situation has led to instances of refuse truck drivers being on the same pay scale as street sweepers, with some staff being owed thousands in back wages.

Unite members are also angry at the company’s 2021 pay offer of 1.5 per cent. Unite members have worked throughout successive national lockdowns to keep the service running, risking their own safety as well as that of their families.

Refuse staff in Bexley earn much less than their counterparts in other areas of the capital. For example, in neighbouring Greenwich refuse staff earn a minimum of £13 an hour, compared to £10.25 paid by Serco in Bexley, which is below even the London Living Wage.

Unite regional officer Ruth Hydon said: “Serco have backed our members into a corner with their pathetic pay offer, refusal to pay owed back wages and lack of fair pay. New drivers are paid £5k more than some experienced drivers.

“These strikes, and the smell and disruption they will cause, will continue until Serco takes serious steps to resolve this issue by making pay fair, paying the back pay they owe and giving our members a decent pay rise.

“Unite urges Bexley council to pressure Serco into bringing this dispute to end as soon as possible.

“We understand that the council is facing financial difficulties, but we are also very concerned that planned £2.5 million cuts to the refuse contract will be borne by our members, who are already at breaking point.

“There is a reason Serco is the only bidder and that is because the contract as it stands will only operate at a profit if services are run completely into the ground.

“Bexley residents are already sick and tired of Serco’s shoestring service provision, while our members strike action speaks for itself. If this contract goes ahead in its current form, it will pave the way for years of industrial unrest and taxpayer dissatisfaction.”