Threat of bin strike looms for Thanet in dispute over pay levels

Waste operatives

GMB union members working as refuse collectors, street cleaners, drivers and loaders within Thanet District Council are set to take two weeks strike action from Monday 11 September.

But, the union says, there is still more than a week left before action begins, giving “more than enough time to sit down and enter negotiations.”

The members are employed by the council directly and are in dispute over pay.  Gary Palmer, GMB Regional Organiser, previously said talks were needed to: “tackle the substantive issue of low pay for those providing this vital service to council tax payers within the district and aimed at ending the dispute allowing our members and council staff access to an improved standard of living allowing them perhaps just a little breathing space between themselves and possible workplace poverty.”

Mr Palmer said members are asking for £15ph for drivers and £12ph for loaders. These pay scales have recently been accepted by Dover, Folkestone, Ashford and Swale councils.

The pay offer received for Thanet staff on June 30 was £14.22 for drivers and £11.35 for loaders – a rise of 15p per hour.

The union is extending an invitation to meet for negotiations with hopes the dispute can be settled before any strike has taken place.

Frank Macklin, GMB Regional Organiser said: “Our members employed by Thanet District Council are just after the going market rate.

“These are hard workers doing a dangerous and dirty job, who just want paying what their local equivalents get elsewhere.

“There is still over a week left before this strike begins, which is more than enough time to sit down and enter negotiations.

“Our door remains open to the council’s Chief Executive or whoever else, to get a deal reached and avoid loads of unnecessary inconvenience to the people of Thanet.”

In neighbouring Canterbury a bin strike which started in July has been extended into October as the dispute over pay continues.

Chief Executive of Thanet District Council, Colin Carmichael said: “We’ve been attempting to hold meaningful talks with the GMB Union since May, when members of the union stated their original intention to strike.

“The reality is that we have already increased pay for our cleansing services staff to reflect comparable jobs elsewhere, and there is a further generous pay offer on the table.

“Comparing the pay position for Thanet with other areas, where the waste service is run privately and not by the local authority, is not comparing like for like. It does not reflect the wider package of benefits our staff receive, such as generous pension contributions. Our current hourly rates of pay already exceed reported market rates across east Kent, when pension contributions are taken into account.

“The request from the GMB for Thanet in short is unrealistic and would come at the expense of other important priorities, particularly if we want to maintain the current level of service to our residents as well as protect jobs for our staff.

“If strike action goes ahead this will impact the waste collection and street cleaning services that Thanet residents ultimately pay for.  As you would expect there are contingency plans in place to maintain as many council waste collections as possible in the event of a strike. We will be working hard to keep the disruption residents face to a minimum as far as we can.

“As I’ve said before, we absolutely recognise the need to support our staff, and competitive pay is important for recruitment and retention. But requests which go beyond the reality of what is possible, and action which impacts on the delivery of providing our residents with essential services, feels irresponsible.

“It’s disappointing that we’ve yet to reach an agreed pay offer and that the threat of strikes remains. We welcome realistic discussions with the union in the hope that we can achieve an outcome that works for all parties.”