Council service workers set for bank holiday strike action in pay dispute

Street cleaning

Street cleaners and litter collectors are among workers set to strike over pay and conditions. - Credit: Norse

Norwich street cleaners, park staff and grave diggers are set to take five days of strike action after union attempts to resolve a pay dispute failed.

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

Members of the Unite union on the steps of City Hall in Norwich.

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

About 160 staff who keep Norwich's streets clean, empty litter bins and maintain the city's parks, together with tree surgeons and ground maintenance staff, are now set to take industrial action on May 26, 27 and 28 and June 1 and 2. 

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.

After the workers overwhelmingly voted for action last week, unions sought to negotiate a new set of proposals but the council rejected this.

Both parties have agreed to meet conciliation service ACAS on Thursday for talks.

Overflowing litter bin

Street cleaning and litter collection staff are set to strike in Norwich. - Credit: Archant

Unite regional officer, Adam Oakes, said: “Norwich City Council had a golden opportunity to enter into negotiations to thrash out a deal. Instead, the management has opted to do nothing. As a result, the workers have set strike dates and disruption which could have been avoided now looks likely.”

The dispute centres on pay and conditions and whether workers at the new company will get the same terms as staff already employed at City Hall.

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

Union representatives in Norwich

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

Unison Norfolk branch secretary Jonathan Dunning said workers transferring would have lower pay rates and terms of employment than council staff while NCSL's offer on pay, sickness and holidays “falls well short of what is required to make progress”.

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He added: “Hopefully the city council will recognise the small amount of cash required to settle this dispute will be value for money: £83,000 to deliver the first step towards equality for low paid workers and to keep streets clean and safe over a bank holiday week seems a bargain to me. 

"Staff are bending over backwards to avoid industrial action and settle this dispute, it's now down to the council.”

A spokesperson for Norwich City Council said: “We are disappointed by this decision to carry out strike action.

“It’s troubling to read the unions’ claims about management making no attempt to try and reach an agreement. This couldn’t be further from the truth – both the council and the company have been in frequent talks with the unions, and in fact both parties are meeting with ACAS tomorrow to continue that dialogue and to try and reach an agreement.

“The company has made two offers of improved terms and conditions to the new workforce, and has also made commitments to offer further improvements in future years, tied to the success of the company.

“Despite these lengthy negotiations and the enhanced offer by the company, which incorporates a 2.5% pay increase and other enhancements on terms and conditions, it has not been possible to reach a solution and the trade unions have confirmed that industrial action will be taking place.

“Our residents can rest assured that NCSL has plans in place to ensure that any disruption to essential services is kept to a minimum.

“The company will continue to work constructively with the trade unions going forward, 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.”