UNITE bosses are warning the Coventry bin lorry driver strikes could continue into the summer as a fresh vote will get under way from Monday, March 7, to renew the mandate for industrial action.
Strikes began early this year and the 70 HGV drivers have been on an all-out strike since January 31 in the dispute over rates of pay.
The union says the workers’ basic rate of pay begins at £22,183-per-year and claim it is far below what workers receive in the private sector and well below pay rates of neighbouring councils.
The current strikes are due to end on March 24 but if workers vote for renewed strike action then it could run through the spring, including during the local elections in May, when 18 seats on Coventry City Council will be contested.
Unite says the dispute has already cost the council £2.9million, with costs rising daily, when it would cost just £250,000 to resolve the dispute.
Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “Our members are simply seeking a fair day’s pay but the Labour council continues to make excuses about why it can’t pay the rate for the job.
“Coventry council should stop wasting council taxpayers’ money and pay our members a fair wage. They could do that now and get the drivers back to work – but if they refuse to pay the rate for the job, as neighbouring councils do, then this strike goes on.
“The drivers have the complete support of Unite and the union is already ramping up its campaign to ensure our members secure the pay justice they deserve.”
The union added there was growing anger about how the council’s elected leadership, in the Labour run authority, and it claimed the council had abdicated its responsibility for seeking a resolution to the dispute and had failed to attend any of the meetings it was invited to by Unite to discuss the workers’ side of the dispute and hear their point of view.
The ballot to renew strike action will open run from this Monday to the following one, March 14.
Unite added – as well as the issue of pay – the drivers would also be balloted on the bullying and harassment that they had suffered, long-standing concerns the council had failed to address.
The union also accused the council of ‘deliberate untruths about workers’ earnings’.
A Coventry City Council spokesperson said: “The hourly wage for a Coventry bin driver is between £11.50 and £14.38 depending on where drivers are on their pay grade.
“This makes us one of the highest paying in the West Midlands when comparing pay for bin lorry drivers.
“This can be further evidenced by the recently celebrated Eastbourne deal for bin drivers where unions agreed a new flat rate of £12.50 per hour for all drivers, rising to £13.50 per hour in April 2023.
“In fact, an offer rejected by Unite during negotiations would have increased the pay of drivers at the bottom-end of the grade so that no driver started on less than £12.45 per hour.”
The authority also said it was disappointed to have been informed by Unite of the intention to re-ballot members on the prospect of continuing the strike beyond March 23.
A spokesperson added: “We have been in dialogue with Unite for a number of months in an attempt to lawfully resolve the issues they have raised.
“During this time, we have made what we believe are generous offers to resolve the issues around pay but they are not accepting these or coming back to us with counter proposals.
“We absolutely refute the claim that we have misled anyone about drivers earnings and can evidence everything we have said.
“It is an ill-judged and unfounded accusation to say that we have lied.”
He added the HGV drivers compared favourably with similar HGV drivers across the region and the council had offered to raise the starting salary to make Coventry driver pay even more competitive but Unite rejected the offers.
“Both parties meet with ACAS today to conclude the independent evaluation of the current HGV driver job role and both have agreed to be bound by the pay grade that comes out of this.
“We do not want to be distracted from our aim of resolving the strike and getting back to providing the service Coventry residents want and deserve. But we cannot and will not allow these false accusations to go unchallenged.
“Coventry City Council would have expected the general secretary of Unite to be aware that Local Government legislation prevents the council’s political leadership from being involved in decisions on employees pay or terms and conditions. This is why they are not directly involved in the negotiations or decisions to resolve this dispute lawfully.”
Fortnightly green-lidded bin collections have been carried out by teams from Tom White Waste – a company owned by Coventry City Council.
Unite previously claimed the agency workers for Tom White Waste were being offered between £18 and £20 per hour which was in excess of the pay rates currently received by the striking refuse bin collection drivers.