Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Striking is no waste of effort at waste company

Organising talents not going to waste 

From the Unite works national magazine 

A successful strike over pay has strengthened union organisation at SITA in Doncaster. Unite members walked out after being offered a pay rise below the rate of inflation. They forced the company to almost double the offer and now there is a 200 strong union branch, with all three local depots recognised and workplace representatives elected throughout. 

When in October 2009, Doncaster Council switched their waste collection contract from May Gurney to SITA then under TUPE (The Transfer of Undertakings Protection of Employment) the terms and conditions of transferred drivers and sorters was protected. What workers wanted though was for them to be improved, and throughout 2009 UNITE membership increased to over 50% of the workforce and the union had become recognised by May Gurney at two depots. 

Essential to developments was two former mineworkers - both on strike in 1984-1985 - Terry Chambers and Jim Bailey. The pair had quietly recruited, says Jim: “By asking workmates if they fancied joining Unite to have some backing behind us in order to improve our pay and conditions.” 

In 2010, another former striking miner, Peter Etherington also joined SITA. The three became accredited workplace reps after attending a 12-day Unite education course that according to Terry: “opened our eyes to our rights and how to negotiate to get them.” 

Back at work there was increasing dissatisfaction at what Terry identifies as: “The way management talked to people, with many saying they felt intimidated.” The reps support for members encouraged non-union members to join and early this year Unite approached SITA requesting recognition at the Bootham Lane depot on Doncaster’s outskirts.  In May the Doncaster Unite SITA branch was established. 

When SITA then offered a pay increase of 12p an hour, around 1.7% of people’s wages, there was real anger amongst employees with a take home pay of around £1,100 a month and who, says Peter: “need every penny, especially as the cost of living is rocketing.” 

Disgust increased when SITA offered a bonus scheme in return for increased efficiency that would have meant redundancies. Following a ballot for industrial and strike action, workers at the recognised depots walked out in September for two days. On the third, and with indefinite strike action planned for the following week, SITA almost doubled their offer to 3.2%. The company also agreed to a day’s pay if there was an immediate return to work. Members agreed to accept. 

There was more good news when a recognition agreement was then concluded at Bootham Lane. Two newly elected reps there have increased numbers to seven across all depots. Branch membership has also risen to 200.  

“We have shown that we can collectively stand up for our rights. We now look forward to a more productive relationship with the company in the future,” concludes Terry.

Peter Etherington, Jim Bailey and Terry Chambers

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