Workers at Sheffield’s five household recycling centres have recommenced industrial action after deeming management’s latest offer unacceptable.
The action, which aims to reverse cuts to the services’ budget and opening hours (leading to working hour and therefore pay cuts for workers), began earlier this year. 28 days of strikes by GMB members forced Sheffield Council and Veolia/SOVA (the private contractors which operate the centre) into negotiations over the cuts.
Affected staff at the sites have found themselves economically devastated by reductions in hours; since many of them are barely earning more than minimum wage at present, this represents a savage move against some of the most financially vulnerable workers.
GMB members on the first picket lines of the new round of action were naturally angry at the attitude of the council and the subcontracting companies, but also at the reduction in a vital public service paid for by public funding but reduced due to financial transactions between private organisations, one of which (SOVA) is a charity.
The workers have already demonstrated their commitment to extended and sustained action through their strikes earlier this year.
Their mood is just as determined now; they are of the belief that one day strikes are pointless exercises and their spirit of solidarity could be an example to many others.
“Phased reverse” in Southampton
An offer from Southampton’s Labour council, which replaced the previous Tory administration in May 2012, could bring a settlement to the bitter industrial dispute which began in May 2011.
The new deal promises a “phased reversal” of the pay cuts for 86% of the workers affected. Low-paid workers will have the cuts reversed entirely.
The reversal only covers the pay lost over the last year and doesn’t include any increase, amounting to a pay freeze. Some cuts included in the Tories’ package, such as the cut to car allowances, will be restored, but others (such as the reduction in annual leave for some workers) remain in place.
Unions will begin balloting on the deal on 14 September, with results expected on 5 October. Both Unite and Unison are recommending that members vote to accept the deal.
Interviewed in Solidarity 254 (22 August), Mike Tucker, the secretary of Southampton District Unison, said: “There’s been a general improvement in industrial relations at the council. Management engage with unions now and the normal channels of consultation are being respected again. The new administration has also withdrawn proposals to evict the unions from the offices and to make myself and my colleague from Unite redundant.”
Members of Unison and Unite have run a campaign of rolling, selective, and sustained strikes against a massive cuts plan from the Tory council, which included a 5.5% pay cut for many workers and was imposed through the gun-to-the-head method of mass sackings and rehiring workers on worse terms.
The Labour council is beginning to draw up its own cuts plans, including a proposal to close a local swimming pool, which has already provoked a union-backed rebellion from two Labour councillors.
Mike Tucker said: “We support the election of a Labour council, but our fundamental role is to help our members defend their pay, conditions, and jobs, and we’ll continue to do that regardless of which political party has power in the council.”
Health workers fight closure
Workers at the NHS Blood and Transplant Testing/Microbiology Department in Colindale, north London, are being balloted for strikes over the closure of their department.
Their union, Unite, sent out ballot papers on 31 August, with results due back on 18 September. Managers are proposing to move the department’s work to Filton, in Gloucestershire, which means blood samples from London and south east England would have to travel up to 120 miles for testing. This could potentially lead to a lengthening of waiting times for patients. The move is also environmentally damaging, as it needlessly increases emissions-heavy road journeys.
Workers at Filton, and the other transplant testing centre in Manchester, are also being balloted for action short of strike in protest at the increased workload they would face if the Colindale closure goes ahead.
Train drivers in pay strike
Drivers for train company DB Schenker will strike on 8 September.
They are fighting to win a decent pay increase for 2012. Their union, ASLEF, declared that management’s latest offer was “unacceptable”. Members voted by 85.2% and 91% (on DB Schenker and DB Schenker International respectively) to strike.
Weekend engineering operations and charter services are expected to be disrupted by the strike.