Fears have been raised of rubbish collection chaos over the Christmas period after Southwark’s refuse collectors voted to strike.
Workers at Southwark’s Veolia depot, the contractor responsible for bin collections, voted overwhelmingly for a strike on Wednesday in a row over changes to sickness policy and Christmas work.
Workers at Veolia’s Southwark refuse depot voted 92 per cent in favour of industrial action on a turnout of 57.5 per cent.
The GMB union slammed the policy changes as ‘draconian’ but Veolia has said it is ‘disappointed’ with workers’ decision to stage a walk-out.
Nadine Houghton, a GMB union regional organiser, told the News: “We are urging Veolia to get around the table with us because we actually think this dispute can be solved.
“[But] until we have it confirmed in writing that changes to the ‘trigger’ system is off the table, we will continue with this action.”
A spokesperson for the company said: “Veolia has engaged in national discussions with the GMB on this dispute and agreed to participate in conciliation through ACAS.”
ACAS is a governmental body which helps to mediate industrial disputes.
The spokesperson added: “We are therefore disappointed that the GMB has pursued this course of action outside of the national agreement we have with them and prior to the opportunity for these discussions to take place.”
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No timetable for the strike has yet been set out, said Ms Houghton, but the ballot vote leaves open the possibility of strike action within the next six months.
If the strike were to go ahead, it would begin with one or two days of industrial action, before escalating if Veolia did not back down on its policy changes.
Other depot-specific issues are behind the vote for strike action, Ms Houghton added, including a dispute over Christmas work.
The GMB union alleges that the sickness policy changes mean that refuse collectors at the Southwark depot only have to be sick for six days before being moved onto a formal ‘sickness management’ process.
It has slammed the change as “creating a culture of fear and intimidation” saying it was an “unacceptable” way of treating manual workers.
Strike balloting was also due to take place in several other south London depots, including Lambeth, Kingston and Richmond.
Veolia holds contracts for waste management with a large number of local authorities across the country including Southwark.
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