Brighton and Hove binmen have overwhelmingly voted to go on strike next month in protest at massive pay cuts, threatening to make the city’s “streets turn to chaos”.
From November 5, union members will also work to rule, by taking all break entitlement and refusing overtime.
The staff are unhappy at the council’s plans to slash the wages of more than 800 staff by up to £8,000 to bring their pay into line with teaching assistants, library staff and others deemed to have a similar skill level.
Mark Turner, GMB Branch Secretary, said: “I’ve never seen such a solid group of workers and this shows that they will do whatever it takes to protect themselves from Conservative pay cuts.
“GMB has had meetings with the opposition Labour and Green parties who support the workers. At the same time Mary Mears, the leader of the Conservative administration which is trying to implement the cuts, has hit the bunker and is not responding to emails or requests for a meeting.
“We are calling for the residents of Brighton and Hove to let Mary Mears know that she cannot stay in hiding and needs to bring a decent offer to the negotiating table or she will face the wrath of voters when the streets turn to chaos.”
The pay cuts were also today condemned by Simon Burgess, Labour and Co-operative Party candidate for Brighton Kemptown at the next general election.
He said on his blog: “I am sure the overwhelming majority of people in this city feel as disgusted as I do.
“The council leader needs to get her hands dirty and sort this out in a way that is fair to the low-paid. We should not be on the verge of seeing industrial action. This should have been sorted weeks ago.”
However, the council defended its position. A spokesman said: “This issue is about the council’s legal and moral duty to pay employees fairly without passing on unnecessary costs to the council taxpayer.
“We have had productive talks with the unions up to this point about how to fulfil this duty and we are disappointed the GMB has taken its members out on strike while the council is prepared to continue negotiations.
“There will, undoubtedly, be some disruption to rubbish collections over the days of the strike if it goes ahead and the week that follows but we will do our utmost to minimise any delays in collections.
“We’d ask residents’ patience during this period and we remain hopeful we can resume talks with the GMB.”
The council is making the changes to its pay structure to protect it against legal action based on equality laws.
In March, more than 3,000 workers were given backpayments of up to £20,000 to compensate them for years of low wages.