Refuse workers in the GMB union in Brighton struck on Monday 15 September. A worker involved in the strike spoke to Solidarity.
The dispute is a hangover from our strike against pay cuts last year. It's an equal pay issue; we used to get various allowances and benefits on top of our basic pay, and the Greens, who run Brighton Council, proposed removing them. We had a prolonged strike campaign against that last year. The deal which ended the strike graded us as a Local Government scale 4 (which has a top pay rate of £18,000), and built in all our old allowances as contractual overtime, etc. We've since discovered that we weren't graded fairly compared to other workers across the council, and that they didn't count holding a HGV licence as a “skill”, so the drivers aren't in the “skilled workers” category so there are other workers across the council doing less “skilled” jobs than our drivers, but for more money. There are other local authorities that pay their HGV drivers at scale 5.
The Greens are saying that they can't “break national agreements over equal pay”, but that's factually incorrect. Pay scales are decided nationally, but job grading is done at a local level. They say they have to “work within financial constraints”, but they're still employing new senior managers on astronomical salaries.
Talks have been ongoing since April, with no movement, so we moved to a ballot for action, which started with the drivers and returned a 96% majority in favour of action. A work-to-rule began on Friday 12 September, which includes an overtime ban, which management rely on heavily to get the work done, and a refusal to collect any waste not actually inside the bins.
The decision to go for this action was taken because we think this might be a long dispute, so a work-to-rule means maximising the impact on the service without people losing pay so it's sustainable. With the work-to-rule, there'll be approximately 50% reduction in the amount of tonnage that gets collected.
We called an all-out strike for Monday to really get things going. The strike will create a backlog of waste, and with the work-to-rule already in place, it's simply not going to get cleared.
On the strike day, not one truck left the yard. Loaders haven't been balloted as part of the strike, but they're fully behind the drivers and didn't go out to work either, so were also totally solid.
We have a very robust democratic culture in the workplace, and in the course of any dispute always hold regular meetings to decide on strategy and what action to take. That will continue.
• This article in a corrected version of one that appeared in our printed paper