Tower Hamlets refuse workers balloted for strike action over holiday pay

Unite, the trade union, has balloted its members working as refuse workers in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets for strike action over unpaid holiday pay arrears, warning that bin collections and street cleaning services could stop “imminently”.

Announced on Tuesday (4 February), the union stated that waste management company Veolia, which holds the refuse, recycling and street cleaning contract for Tower Hamlets, has failed to settle a collective holiday pay claim, despite an agreement being reached with Unite back in August 2018.

Tower Hamlets estate in Globe Town.
Unite claims that Veolia is making workers resort to the legal system to claim back their holiday pay, rather than voluntarily repaying the arrears, some of whom are owed up to £9,000.

Veolia’s contract with Tower Hamlets is set to expire in April 2020, when Tower Hamlets’ waste services will be brought back in-house in a bid to increase recycling performance and make cost savings.

Around 250 Unite members working on bin collection and street cleaning services for Veolia were balloted on Tuesday, with voting set to close on 21 February.

Unite regional officer Ruth Hydon has stated that a failure to resolve the dispute will lead to bin collection services being suspended to the detriment of residents, saying: “Tower Hamlets’ council and residents will be furious at the prospect of having to put up with uncollected rubbish and litter strewn streets because Veolia won’t hand over the holiday pay it owes staff.

“It says a lot about Veolia’s leadership that they have done everything possible to wriggle out of paying the holiday pay arrears. This includes using the prospect of complex and time-consuming litigation to put our members off claiming what is rightfully theirs.

“Strike action will be held imminently if this dispute, which is entirely down to the actions of Veolia, continues on its current trajectory. Unite urges Veolia to pay what it owes before that stage is reached.”

A Veolia spokesperson added: "We are disappointed to have received notification of ballot from Unite the Union for industrial action. We have a long standing recognition agreement in place with Unite which includes a dispute resolution process. We are in ongoing dialogue with Unite to see if this matter can be resolved."  

A spokesperson for Tower Hamlets Council said: “The council has been informed by Veolia that a number of its waste collection staff are being balloted over possible industrial action. This relates to a dispute about holiday pay between Veolia and its workforce and is entirely unrelated to our plans to bring our waste and recycling service in-house later this year.

“We continue to urge both sides to come together to try and resolve this situation.

“Residents can be assured that we are in regular contact with Veolia to understand the possible impact of any industrial action and to coordinate the planning to ensure we are able to continue to deliver a waste collection service.”