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Refuse workers strike in Wirral postponed over coronavirus

Refuse workers in Wirral on Merseyside belonging to the trade union Unite voted in favour of strike action following a pay dispute with waste management company Biffa Waste Services.

Wallasey Town Hall

The results on Thursday (26 March) showed 96 per cent of Wirral refuse workers voted in favour of the strike on an 80 per cent turnout. However, Unite confirmed there would be no strike during the coronavirus outbreak in order to keep waste services running.

Workers took to the ballot box this month following a pay dispute which began in 2019 when Biffa, which holds the waste contract for Wirral Council until 2027, refused to meet Unite’s pay demand for the 180 refuse workers. Unite claimed workers were left without adequate financial safeguards after Biffa decided to transition to monthly pay for its workers.

The union had scheduled the strike to take place in the Easter holidays but has now requested that Biffa extend its window of industrial action beyond six months due to the current pandemic.

Commenting on the decision to delay the strike, Unite Regional Officer Steve Gerrard said: “Our members have overwhelmingly voted in favour of strike action and Biffa must understand that strength of feeling and resolve this dispute.

“It would not be appropriate to take strike action at the present time and Unite will not undertake any strike action until the coronavirus crisis has ended. As an act of good faith Unite is requesting that Biffa extends the time period when industrial action can take place.

“Unite urges Biffa not to waste the delay in calling strike action by engaging in meaningful negotiations to resolve this dispute. Our members are continuing to work in very difficult conditions in order to keep rubbish off Wirral’s streets and Biffa needs to understand and appreciate that commitment.”

A spokesperson for Biffa responded: “We have received the union’s request to extend the time period where industrial action can take place. We will be responding to the union on this issue in due course.”

Unite commented that: “during the coronavirus crisis Unite is working to keep workers and the public safe, to defend jobs and to protect incomes”.

Over the last week, there has been mounting concern nationwide for waste operatives deemed as ‘key workers’ by the government. The UK waste and recycling sector issued a joint statement on Wednesday (25 March), calling on the public to help protect waste workers by following the government’s advice on discarding waste during the pandemic, while the Waste Industry Safety and Health Forum (WISH) published draft guidance on reducing risks to waste workers on Friday (27 March). 

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