Prior to the special Policy and Resources Committee meeting on Wednesday, I visited the picket line at the Hollingdean depot to talk to some of the drivers who have been striking.
I was struck by the pride they take in their work and their willingness to get on with the job and clear the city once the bin dispute is settled.
Sadly, the drivers feel very discontented with management, particularly highlighting a lack of respect for them and a failure to have regular meetings with management. They also highlighted health and safety concerns, in part due to the ageing fleet of vehicles.
Labour are determined to help resolve the dispute and bring the officers, administration and the union around the table, with an independent mediator, to negotiate a way forward.
These drivers were celebrated as key workers just three months ago. Now they are apparently told they are not professional and their views and opinions are not valued despite some of them having 40 years’ experience.
After asking some very searching questions, Labour moved an amendment at the committee meeting, which injects a sense of urgency into resolving the dispute and looks to bring in an independent mediator as well as seeking to reduce fire risk by seeking a dispensation to clear rubbish from communal bin stores.
The questions and discussions were positive and elicited interesting information around where the negotiations had gone wrong.
Then, Conservative councillor Joe Miller seemed to compare the unions and Cityclean workers to terrorists to bolster his demand that we should just bring in private contractors to sort this out, and “get tough” with the GMB.
The Labour councillors in the room were all members of the GMB (as am I) so this got short shrift. This sort of union-bashing rhetoric will do nothing to help resolve any industrial dispute, and it was disappointing that the meeting was marred by these remarks.
Nonetheless, Labour won support for our amendment which should help pave the way to ending the dispute.
While it remains incumbent on the Green administration to negotiate with the union to end the bin strike in the interest of residents and businesses, we have given the council the tools to resolve this dispute and we are all depending on them to do so.
Councillor Carmen Appich is the joint Labour opposition leader on Brighton and Hove City Council.
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