Posted: 01.04.21 at 13:58 by The Editor
THURROCK’S bin collections services, street cleaning and highways maintenance is set to be hit by a three week strike after the Unite union announced it was taking severe action in support of its members’ pay and conditions grievances.
The long-running dispute between the authority and its employees in the environmental services has been leading up to industrial action after a significant majority of Unite union members voted for a strike.
Initially it was mooted that action would take the form of a number of one day strikes – but backed by the strength of feeling among members the union has called a three week long stoppage, which will start on 13 April unless the council comes back to the negotiating table with a different offer.
They have challenged the council’s chief executive Lyn Carpenter, who earns more than £200,000 a year and has not had any cuts to her pay and conditions despite austerity measures and cuts imposed elsewhere, to rise to the challenge and return to the negotiating table.
It would be fair to say relations between Ms Carpenter and the union are not good.
News of the length of the strike broke on the day (Thursday, 1 April) Thurrock Nub News had featured the contrasting views of the leaders of the borough council’s two political parties.
Labour’s Cllr John Kent had denounced the Conservative leadership of the council, saying: “All through the pandemic our front line workers carried on working day in and day out to providing vital public services, only for the Thurrock Conservatives to reward them by threatening to cut their pay and conditions.”
However, Tory council leader Cllr Rob Gledhill says the council is not cutting wages, but instead is putting right the wrongs of a Labour administration of five years ago.
He says the timing of the strike in the lead up to local elections is politically motivated, saying: “This strike action will do nothing but have a direct impact on Thurrock taxpayers and the fact the Unite union has called for weeks of strikes in the lead up to the local elections will not be lost on residents.
"Let’s be clear no one at the council is having their basic annual salary cut.”
However, the union view – and that of the rank and file in the environmental services – plus colleagues in the GMB union - differs.
A statement from Unite issued this afternoon says: “Council workers providing essential services throughout the pandemic to the residents of Thurrock will strike for three weeks because of Thurrock Council’s plans to brutally cut their pay and conditions.
“Refuse workers, highway maintenance and street cleaners will take strike action from Tuesday 13 April until Friday 7 May, excluding 3 May.
“The very workers who have been supporting residents, by providing key services throughout the current health crisis, are furious that they are now the target of proposed cuts of between £2,000 - £3,500 a year for refuse workers, highway maintenance and street cleaners.
“Meanwhile, the council has not proposed any cuts to the pay and conditions of senior management. Lyn Carpenter, the chief executive earns more than £200,000 a year.
“Unite regional officer Michelle Cook said: "Unite will not accept these proposals to slash the pay of these council heroes who have provided essential services to the residents of Thurrock throughout this pandemic.
"We have given the council months to rethink these brutal pay cuts which will leave key workers struggling to make ends meet. The council appears to be prepared to disrupt its residents' key services and attack its employees' conditions.
“Chief executive, Lyn Carpenter has a small window of opportunity to prevent this strike. We hope she will get around the negotiating table to avoid this dispute."
The council's pay and conditions strategy can be found in full here.