Update: Brighton council refuse workers voted on 18 October to accept a deal in their pay and conditions dispute. See here.
• Visit picket lines early mornings at Hollingdean Depot, Upper Hollingdean Road, Brighton BN1 7GA. Pickets on Friday 15 October, then off for three days, back on morning Tuesday 19 October.
• Donations to GMB Brighton branch, account 42004718, sort code 60-83-01.
• Messages of solidarity to email@example.com.
• More from the GMB, including plans to ballot other groups of workers at Brighton's Cityclean, here.
This is about a very simple but actually very serious matter. It’s about respect. The local management couldn’t be bothered to follow the Council's policies and procedures, which are all written down, agreed by management and the GMB.
These rules set down what happens in particular circumstances, capability [ie whether and how an employee is able to do their job], disciplinary issues and so on. The local management thought they knew much better and applied their own ‘rules’, which removed people from rounds with no reason whatsoever or for very arbitrary reasons.
When people have challenged that they’ve mostly been put back on their rounds, but there's real stress and mental strain from people coming in and not knowing where they’re going out to – taken off long-established rounds they know. In some cases they’ve been given a map, or given a list and told to use Googlemaps to find their way around the city! That’s not acceptable. It’s also not safe to demand a driver does that while they’re driving a heavy and dangerous vehicle around the streets of Brighton. The workers mostly live in Brighton, they respect their city and want to see it clean – but without management support they can't do the job.
If you don’t know where you’re going, it takes a lot more time. Normally the loaders and the drivers work together really well. The loader will advise the driver, you can’t go down this street right now, this is happening, there’s a school run going run or whatever it is, let’s come back to this. That relationship between loaders and drivers is very important. If you take people off and put them on an unfamiliar round, and put them with loaders they don’t know and who don’t know them, you’re asking for trouble.
Then add into that they’ve got an ageing fleet which was all bought at once, and is falling apart. They need to replace that whole fleet of fifty vehicles. They’re constantly penny pinching. They’re short of vehicles, they’re short of drivers and this is their solution.
On Friday we met with the council leader and some councillors, and I thought at the end of a long meeting there was an accord. They were going to put together an offer which was a real starting point for constructive negotiations. Unfortunately we went in on Monday to hear those details, and it had been completely taken off the table. They’d replaced it with a substandard offer, more like we might have expected to hear at the start of things over a week ago. We asked, why have you done this? Go back to where you were on Friday. They said this is our final offer, and we said we’ll take it to our members. We didn’t walk out – there was effectively no meeting to leave!
A delegation went to the council policy and resources meeting yesterday, and again we thought we’d hear steps to get negotiations back on. [Tory] Councillor [Joe] Miller decided to use it as a platform for hate, likening our members – who of course are council employees – to terrorists, not once but three or four times. He accused us of being mafia-like in the way we supposedly control the city. He achieved his goal of scuppering negotiations. Job done for councillor Miller – but not job done for the city. We want a written apology from him.
We’re expecting a new offer imminently, but nothing’s come through yet.
Please join us on the picket line, come and speak to and engage with us. We’re here, we’re friendly, we’re open. If you live in Brighton, get on to your councillors and push them to get back to the table with the GMB, so we can get this city cleaned up.
The pay offer for local government, 1.75%, is ridiculous – particularly when you’ve got rising costs of living and National Insurance is going up. Now’s a good time for workers to fight. Not just refuse workers, but workers anywhere in the public services or the private sector, now’s the time to band together. Collectivism and the strength of unions has never been more important than it is now. Join a union – whatever the biggest union in your workplace is, get in it, get active, fight back.