BIN collecting crews are holding three weeks of strikes in response to a pay offer described as a “significant real terms pay cut”.
About 150 workers employed by South Gloucestershire Council’s waste contractor Suez went on strike for a week from June 12 to 16, with a further fortnight of action due to last from June 26 to July 9.
Union Unite said 89% of workers who took part in a ballot voted to strike, after rejecting an 8% per cent pay offer from Suez.
The union said: “With the real rate of inflation, RPI, at 11.4%, this is a significant real terms pay cut.
Unite says Suez made profits of £80.8 million in 2021. The company’s South Gloucestershire bin loaders earn £11.53 per hour – equivalent to around £460 for a five-day week at eight hours per day, or just under £24,000 a year.
The union said industrial action would “intensify” if the dispute was not resolved.
Unite regional officer Ken Fish said: “Our members have been forced to take action because Suez refuses to table a reasonable pay offer. This is a lucrative contract and the council needs to intervene and force Suez to put forward a fair offer to our members.”
Suez says its two most recent pay offers, this year and last, together represent a pay increase of up to 16.75%.
Social workers and occupational therapists working in adult services for South Gloucestershire Council joined bin workers on a picket line outside the authority’s Kingswood offices on June 12.
Their union Union Unison has been in dispute with the council since last summer over a decision to award qualified staff in children’s services an extra £3,000 “retention payment” on top of their basic annual salary to stop them leaving the sector – but not giving it to adult services workers.
Plan to cut bin collections
Black bin collections could be reduced to just once a month and garden waste fees hiked from £30 to as much as £75 under controversial plans by South Gloucestershire Council.
Opposition Tories have branded the proposals, which include new charges for certain types of waste such as tyres and plasterboard at the district’s tips, as “crazy and irresponsible”.
The new Lib Dem/Labour coalition running the local authority has hit back, calling the criticism “astonishing and rather cynical” as work on a new waste contract was “largely done by their previous Conservative administration”.
Changes to how the service
is run are needed because South Gloucestershire Council’s 25-year Private Finance Initiative (PFI) with Suez ends in July 2025.
Officers have assessed four options to replace it but every one means a massive funding shortfall. The cheapest, costing £330 million over 10 years, would see bin collections outsourced to a private operator while recycling centres are brought back in-house.
This needs more than 50 extra council staff and would leave the council having to find an extra £4.7m a year to run the service.
Cabinet members were being asked to approve general principles ahead of a consultation over the summer and a final decision in October.
A report at a cross-party scrutiny commission on June 14 said having three-weekly black bin collections from 2026 would save £500,000 a year, saving a further £300,000 by going four-weekly.
Charges for disposing of waste such as asbestos and tyres at tips would bring in £500,000. Fees for collecting bulky waste could also increase.
Increases to the green bin subscription, from £30 to £50, bringing in £800,000 a year, were proposed in the Tories’ last budget but scrapped following objections.
However, these are now back on the table but officers said the garden waste charge might need to be increased to £60 or even £75 a year, and that residents would have to pay £25 for a replacement bin.
Conservative shadow cabinet member Rachael Hunt said: “We have an excellent record of prosecuting people for fly-tipping. These crazy and irresponsible proposals could see that record seriously jeopardised, as people try to avoid charges and deal with the accumulation of rubbish they’ll see when their bins aren’t emptied as regularly.”
Labour cabinet member for communities and local place Leigh Ingham said: “It is astonishing, and rather cynical, that the Conservatives seemingly appear surprised by the proposals as the work on this project which was largely done by their previous Conservative administration.”
“This new administration believes in listening to the people of South Gloucestershire and we don’t want to prejudge the findings of meaningful engagement activities with residents which will be taking place over the summer.”
Officers said “awkward” waste, such as nappies, clinical and sharp objects, would be collected more frequently than black bin rubbish under the proposals and that there was plenty of time to talk to residents and explain why the changes were needed.
By Adam Postans, Local Democracy Reporter