Carol Mills, Trade Union Liaison Officer for Eastbourne Labour Party

Our bin collection workers do a hard frontline key working role which is an essential service. The work is hard, dirty, and thankless. The drivers are HGV qualified. Their management hold down their pay to near minimum wage. Their working conditions are primitive to say the least. 2 toilets for 100 workers. No indoor staff room. No access to showers. Reports of needing to be hosed down in the car park after especially difficult jobs. “Draconian”. “Nothing less than 19th century working conditions”.

“The Lib Dem council charge one of the highest council tax rates in the UK and increase it by the max 4% year on year. Eastbourne bin loaders are one of the lowest paid in the country and are paid £3 less PH than their colleagues in Lewes who work for the same employer”. (Strike supporter).

The Lib Dem management has been accused by many online commentators of trying to break the strike by sending in replacement drivers. They had announced to residents on the first day of the strike that it was business as usual, put your bins out, they will be collected today.

It had taken 7 weeks for management to come to the table for talks after the issues were first raised. They finally agreed to talks on 22nd December. The drivers heard no word back from management at all in 9 days, so the strike went ahead on December 31st. Instead of encouraging the talks for a speedy resolution of the issues,  management had set to work arranging for replacement drivers. But when the 20 to 30 strong picket line held firm and no vehicles left the depot, Eastbourne Borough Council then put out anti-union information on their website as an explainer to their failed plan. They blamed the strikers pure and simple.

Their announcement read  as trying to pit residents against the striking drivers; and to pit non-striking workers against striking workers.  But the news from the picket line showed a picture of strong solidarity from the non-striker bin loaders with the striking drivers.

Judging by the online commentary and passers-by at the picket, cars tooting etc there is strong local support for this strike. It seems a pretty clear-cut case that the strikers’ terms are reasonable and should be met in full.

“As a resident whose bin is full and has a Friday collection, I am quite prepared to put up with the inconvenience so that these essential workers are paid a decent living wage, so they can feed their families, and have access to an indoor staff room with 21st Century facilities. Shame on Eastbourne Borough Council. Solidarity with the workers ✊”  (Picket line supporter).

“I went down to speak with the workers…. Not one elected Councillor, MP or Josh Lib Dem Prospective Parliamentary Candidate to be seen. Why are they not supporting their residents who have worked throughout the pandemic, putting their life at risk, the people who they want to support them and voted them in? All they are asking for is fair pay and decent working conditions. Shame on them (Councillors). Time for Labour voters not to lend their vote any longer to Lib Dems in Eastbourne.” ( Picket line supporter).

The next strike days are Friday 7th and Monday 10th January from 5am until 12. Also, further industrial action is set to take place on January 14 for 6 days. Supporters are joining the picket line either before they go to work or later from about 9am. Please support the picket if you can.

The latest news is that the negotiation talks due for this Friday were brought forward to Wednesday. Here’s hoping the strikers’ terms are met in full. Their terms are reasonable and long overdue.

Trade Union Liaison Officer for Eastbourne Labour Party