‘ENOUGH is enough’ – bin workers in Rugby have begun a two-week strike today (Tuesday April 26) claiming they can’t support their families unless they are paid a fair wage.
Around 70 members of Unite the Union who work in Rugby Borough Council’s (RBC) refuse, recycling and street cleansing services are taking strike action to demand a pay increase, as inflation reaches a 30-year high and food and energy costs continue to spiral.
At the picket line this morning, council worker Cliff Hancox – the senior union representative for the striking workers – told The Observer: “I don’t think it’s fair in this day and age for a working man to have to go begging off the Government.
“We’re in a prosperous town where one room for a month is £400-£500. That’s not sustainable on the wages we’re on. The young lads here who have families are the ones it hurts the most.
“We’ve just had enough of being downtrodden all the time. We’ve had 12 years of austerity, and what have we had? Hardly anything.
“We’re not asking for much. We just want to be paid fairly for the job we do.”
He said he and his colleagues liked working for the people of Rugby, and always felt appreciated by them.
“All I am saying to the residents is – I am very sorry, but we can’t keep going on like this.
“Anyone who thinks it’s an easy job should come and spend the day working on the back of one of our lorries, because it’s a tough job.
“Yes, we can always get other jobs. But we enjoy our job here, and we like serving Rugby. We just want a fair wage.”
The strike is in protest over a 1.75 per cent pay rise for local government workers, which was negotiated nationally by the National Joint Council (NJC) for Local Government Services and agreed by the Unison and GMB trade unions.
Coun Maggie O’Rourke, leader of the Labour Group at Rugby Borough Council, said: “This Tory Government put a pay freeze in place across the Public Sector for many years. This pay freeze has led to a real time pay loss of around 25 per cent for many frontline workers.
“At the same time lots of people are being hit hard by the cost-of-living crisis.
“It’s about time this Government recognised the harm their austerity policies have caused and address it by paying a decent wage to public sector workers.”
Unite says RBC’s street cleansers, HGV lorry drivers and loaders are some of the lowest paid compared to neighbouring councils and to local transport and warehouse workers in the private sector.
It says the starting salary for street cleaners in Rugby begins at £17,100 and reaches £19,200 after five years. The loaders’ annual wage begins at £19,200, reaching £21,300 after five years, while drivers earn £21,300 rising to £23,400 after five years.
Unite regional officer Zoe Mayou said: “Some of the workers have even needed to resort to using food banks. With the cost-of-living crisis set to get worse, the workers face an emergency. Rugby Borough Council needs to deliver a significant pay uplift for the workers.
“It’s time to pay these essential workers a decent wage.”
An RBC spokesman said a benchmarking review in February showed its wages for refuse loader and street cleansing roles were ‘above the median pay’ offered for similar roles by 19 other councils and private sector companies.
He added: “The council remains committed to working constructively with Unite and, following the benchmarking review, agreed in February to review all relevant job descriptions to ensure pay grades reflect the duties and responsibilities each role entails.
“We have committed to completing this review by the end of May 2022.”
The council says it will target its ‘limited resources’ on black bin household waste collections, while suspending all garden waste (green bin) and recycling (blue lid bin) collections during the strike. Residents are advised to put out their black bins by 7.30am on their scheduled collection day.
Household and garden waste and recycling can be taken to Hunters Lane Recycling Centre, operated by Warwickshire County Council. An appointment must be booked. Visit https://tinyurl.com/yct57k5s for more information or to book an appointment.
The strike is scheduled to continue until May 10 – although Unite has not ruled out further action if a deal has not been reached by then.
Visit www.rugby.gov.uk/servicedisruption for updates on service disruption from Rugby Borough Council.