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City council mulls legal action over protests that prevented waste collection

Coventry City Council is considering "all of its legal and enforcement options" after protestors disrupted a replacement bin collection service last week.

The local authority claimed protestors "illegally" blocked the entrance on Friday (9 May 2022) to Tom White Waste, a council-owned waste company being used to collect bins while the drivers strike.

Bin collections in the city have been disrupted since 31 January 2022 when 70 HGV drivers, who are members of the union UNITE, went on strike over wages.

In a statement posted to Twitter, the local authority said: "Following a protest that illegally blocked the entrance to the Tom White Waste depot this morning all of our collection rounds are running late today."

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"We apologise for the inconvenience caused by the actions of this small group of people acting outside of the law."

It added: "The Council is now considering all of its legal and enforcement options - as this is unacceptable and intolerable behaviour. These actions are totally contrary to the legitimacy of local democratic process that we have seen exercised in the city in the last 24 hours."

Unite successfully balloted drivers in December last year on working over the Christmas period and a failure to pay a Grade 6 in wages.

Drivers are currently paid a Grade 5 salary, amounting to around £22,000 per annum.

In March 2022, an additional ballot was conducted over the lack of market supplement paid to workers.

The council was asked in 2021 to review the pay using a national process which determines pay gradings. The review concluded that the Grade 5 salary was appropriate. 

However, Unite appealed this, leading to two further independent reviews that both found that drivers' pay should remain the same.

On a webpage detailing the dispute, the council said: "Paying additional money to a male dominated workforce without the evidence to support it, would be unfair on the other employees the Council employs and would quite rightly lead to equal pay claims – that could cost the Council anything up to an additional £30 million a year."

It added that a market supplement does not need to be paid to the workers as there are no recruitment or retention problems.

Responding to those questioning the lawfulness of using other drivers while the council's own drivers are engaging in industrial action, the council said the law does not prevent the temporary outsourcing of the affected business function to a third-party contractor.

"This is what the council is doing with regards to the drivers supplied by Tom White Waste. Remember, the collectors are the council's own employees who are not on strike," the council noted.

In an attempt to end the strike, the council has offered a minimum salary of £26,992 per annum to all drivers, a £4,000 tax-free payment to all staff to buy out existing working arrangements - including Christmas working and the collection of side waste - and a commitment to train 20 collectors in waste services staff to be HGV drivers.

It also offered a retention payment of £500 to be paid to drivers should the service have a turnover of 15% of drivers.

An agreement is yet to be made between the council and Unite.

Unite has been approached for comment.

Adam Carey

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