The strike by bin collectors has been extended again and is set to last until early December, meaning most homes in Warrington will have gone without a regular bin collection service for at least two months.
Many local residents have been in touch to ask what I’m able to do to try and help resolve the situation. It’s worth saying that as a Member of Parliament, I’m elected to represent Warrington South in the House of Commons on national issues. Councillors are elected to make decisions in the Town Hall, but I am in regular contact with the Chief Executive to assist where I can and so that I can keep the Local Government Minister up to date on the situation.
There are three things that concern me about this action, firstly - similar strike actions by refuse collectors related to national pay negotiations have taken place in other areas of England and have now ended with collective agreement. It appears that the strikes in Warrington are now dragging on because the Unite union has changed the terms under which they are striking from national pay to local conditions. Striking workers have received payments from their Union and I’ve heard about one local ‘charity’ that has been donating food parcels to workers on the picket line.
If the Union has other outstanding issues it feels it wants to discuss then it should enter into negotiations, with ACAS if necessary, to find a solution. It’s not lawful to ballot over national pay agreements, reach an agreement and then argue the strike is ongoing for other issues. Warrington Borough Council are rightly now seeking a High Court injunction to bring the strikes to an end. Local Conservative Councillors and I have pressed the Council to take this course of action and we fully support their application.
Secondly, this risks becoming a significant public health matter. Eight weeks of uncollected rubbish is something we need to see addressed urgently – I’m already seeing emails with details of rats and illegal fly tipping. Recent High Court rulings prevent employers from bringing in temporary workers where there is legitimate industrial action – now this strike is outside the mandate of the original ballot, the Council should use agency workers to clear the backlog of collections.
Finally, we need to see leadership from the local controlling Labour Group who seem to have gone awfully quiet about these problems. In fact, I can’t find one Labour Councillor making any statement to the Warrington Guardian, calling for the strikes to end. Perhaps that’s because they’re banking on Unite funding their campaigns at the local elections in Warrington next year? Maybe Labour Councillors will now come to appreciate why this Government is taking action to legislate to allow workers to strike but also to ensure minimum service levels when strike action is taking place.
Local residents rightly expect a regular refuse collection service, that is what we’ve paid for in our council tax. We shouldn’t be blackmailed by striking workers who are demanding an extra payment to return to work. Labour elected a new Council Leader and Deputy Leader last week, I wish them well in their new roles and look forward to meeting them soon to discuss what steps are they taking to bring this matter to a speedy resolution.