Tower Hamlets refuse workers vote to strike over holiday pay

Unite members working as refuse workers for waste management company Veolia in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets have voted overwhelmingly in favour of strike action over an unsettled holiday pay claim.

Announced yesterday (25 February), 250 Unite members working for Veolia, which holds the refuse, recycling and street cleaning contract for Tower Hamlets, will be taking industrial action, halting bin collections and street cleaning services for one week beginning at 3pm on Monday 9 March and ending on Monday 16 March.

Blocks of flats in Tower Hamlets.
Despite reaching an agreement on the calculation of holiday pay in August 2018, Unite states that Veolia owes around 150 workers holiday pay in arrears, with some owed up to £9,000.

Unite has accused Veolia of making workers resort to the “complicated and drawn out” legal system to claim back their holiday pay, rather than paying back the arrears voluntarily.

As such, it was announced at the start of February that Unite members would be balloted for strike action with voting closing on 21 February. Members voted significantly for strike action, with 96.5 per cent in favour with a 70 per cent turnout.

Commenting on the action, Unite regional officer Ruth Hydon said: “Veolia has caused these strikes by attempting to weasel out of paying the substantial holiday arrears it owes staff. The company now has to answer to Tower Hamlets residents who will be understandably angry at having to put up with overflowing bins and piles of rubbish.

“Our members have been left with no choice but to vote for strike action after Veolia forced each of them to launch complicated and drawn out legal claims to retrieve holiday pay that was theirs to begin with. This was nothing but a dishonourable attempt to put hard working staff off claiming what was owed.

“Veolia still has time to resolve this dispute before rubbish collections grind to a halt by agreeing to provide the collective financial settlement that should have been offered to begin with.” 

A Veolia spokesperson said: "Following local discussions, we are disappointed to have been notified by Unite that they intend to proceed with industrial action in Tower Hamlets. We have a long-standing agreement in place with Unite which includes a dispute resolution procedure. We are in ongoing dialogue with Unite to see if this matter can be resolved and we ask that Unite works with Veolia as part of the dispute resolution procedure which involves working with ACAS, prior to any industrial action taking place." 

Veolia’s refuse and recycling contract with Tower hamlets is set to come to an end in April 2020, when Tower Hamlets’ waste services will be brought back in house in a bid to increase recycling p[erformance and make cost savings.

A spokesperson for Tower Hamlets Council said: “We are aware of the announcement by Unite following the ballot held earlier this month. It concerns a dispute between Veolia and its workforce and is not related to our plans to bring our waste and recycling service in house later this year.

“Residents can be assured that we are working with Veolia to understand the likely impact of the proposed industrial action and to ensure that they put contingency plans in place. However, we hope these will not be needed.

“We would urge both sides to come together to try and resolve the dispute before it has any impact on our residents.”

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