Street cleaners and park workers vote to strike over pay dispute

Unite members in Norwich

Members of the Unite union on the steps of City Hall in Norwich - Credit: Unite

Workers for a new company set up by Norwich City Council have voted to go on strike, amid a dispute over pay and conditions.

Staff who keep Norwich's streets clean and maintain the city's parks are now set to take industrial action, although the form of that action has yet to be announced.

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Workers at a company owned by Norwich City Council have voted to go on strike. - Credit: EDP pics © 2007

Some 400 workers, employed by Norfolk County Council-owned company Norse, are transferring to an arms-length company called Norwich City Services Ltd (NCSL), run by the Labour-controlled city council.

But a dispute over pay and conditions - and whether workers at the new company will get the same terms as staff already employed at City Hall - prompted the ballot by Unite and Unison members.

In the Unite ballot, 83pc backed industrial action on a 90pc turnout and Unison members voted 81pc in favour on an 84pc turnout.

The unions said, prior to transfer, they held meetings with council leader Alan Waters and city council officer Anton Bull.

They say they were told the new service would be significantly different to Norse, and that it would work with the unions to harmonise pay and conditions with city council colleagues.

But the unions say they have had a letter from Hannah Leys, managing director of the NCSL board, stating "it is not our goal to aim for the harmonisation with Norwich City Council terms and conditions".

The unions tabled an initial 5.5pc / 6.5pc pay claim and sought three months full and three month half sick pay. City council workers get six and six. They also wanted the same annual leave as city council workers.

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The council's offer was for a 2pc increase, an increase of an extra day's holiday for workers who currently get 20 days leave and four weeks full and four weeks half sick pay.

The council says workers will get improved pensions and that it is "the first step" of the company's roadmap which would see "regular reassessments of what further improvements can be made."

Union representatives in Norwich

Unite regional officer, Adam Oakes and Jonathan Dunning, Unison Norfolk branch secretary. - Credit: Unite/Unison

But Unite regional officer Adam Oakes said: “Our members have sent a clear message to their employer that they are not prepared to accept terms and conditions that are inferior to their directly employed Norwich City Council colleagues.

"The council needs to honour the commitments it has made to these workers who are low paid, who do not get company sick pay and are not part of the local government pension scheme. 

"These men and women work outside in all weather conditions keeping the city and its parks and gardens clean.

"We urge management to get around the negotiating table to agree a fair deal for the staff.”

Jonathan Dunning, Unison Norfolk branch secretary, said: “None of our members want to take strike action, after all they deliver important services that the public rely upon.

"However they are not prepared to accept a pay deal that sells them short and reneges on commitments they were given by the city council."

The first to transfer, last month, were staff from Norwich Norse Environmental.

That includes staff who maintain the city's parks and clean the streets. More services are due to transfer in the coming years.

Unite and Unison say they will now begin preparations to announce strike dates.

A spokesperson for Norwich City Council said: “We are disappointed by the outcome of the ballot.

"On top of the improved terms and conditions which were already part of the transfer package and pay offer, last week the company put forward a further improved offer to the trade unions which we understand they will be putting to their members shortly.

“The company has also been very clear with trade unions and with staff that this is the first step of a plan that will see regular reassessments of what other improvements can be made. These decisions will be tied to the success of the company.

“The company will continue to work constructively with the trade unions to ensure NCSL is successful in delivering what it needs to – not only for its staff but also for the city’s residents who rely on them to keep essential services going.”