Manchester bin workers ready to ‘strike til Christmas’ over ‘17p an hour’ pay rise offer

Union members say they feel ‘insulted’ by a 1.75% pay rise for some staff and have voted to walk out in May and June.

Bin men in Manchester say they are prepared to ‘picket until Christmas’ after voting to go on strike over an ‘offensive’ pay offer worth just 17p more an hour.

Up to 220,000 homes could be affected by the strike lasting 11 days from 3 May with a further two weeks of industrial action scheduled to start on 23 May.

Biffa staff voted to take industrial action in a ballot of GMB and Unite union members which closed on Tuesday (12 April) with around 90 % in support.

It comes after the outsourced waste collection company which has a contract with Manchester council offered an ‘insulting’ 1.75 % pay rise for some staff.

This means loaders, who currently earn £9.97 an hour, would get an extra 17p.

Drivers have been offered £13 an hour, up from £11.40 – but with their HGV licences, they claim they could get much more elsewhere in other industries.

Biffa has said negotations continue to try to find a resolution as soon as possible.

Bins are being emptied a day earlier this week

‘I will strike for as long as it takes’

Ben Wrigley, a bin truck driver who lives in Trafford Bar, said he will strike for ‘as long as it takes’. He said: “I’m willing to picket until Christmas if necessary.”

The 29-year-old, who collects communal bins from housing estates, said he spends most of his working day ‘shovelling nappies’ from fly-tipped alleyways.

“The work is dirty, but I feel like I’m making an area better,” he said. “It’s positive work and quite fulfilling.”

Ben and his partner moved into a house share in Trafford Bar with another couple earlier this year because they cannot afford their own place anymore.

They want to start a family soon, but are struggling to save with inflation rising.

The Local Democracy Reporting Service spoke to several members of staff at Biffa, all of whom said they are feeling the impact of the cost of living crisis.

One driver, who asked to remain anonymous, was the only income earner in his family for much of the pandemic as his wife lost her job in the first lockdown.

The family of four are living ‘month by month’ as savings have dwindled away.

He said: “The week before pay day we’re down to our last bones. As soon as you get paid, the same day, half of it’s gone on direct debits and the mortgage.

“People think bin drivers are on really good money,” he added. “I’m an HGV driver and I’m on £11.40 an hour. All we’re asking is for a decent pay rise.”

This driver joined Biffa at the start of the pandemic after losing his £16-an-hour job doing deliveries in the retail sector when the HGV trade ‘collapsed’.

But now, he claims he has had offers for haulage jobs paying up to £22.50.

The only reason he has stayed, he says, is because the hours allow him to pick up his two daughters from school and drop them off at after-school activities.

“£14 an hour would be acceptable,” he said. “That’s not going overboard.

“We’d still be one of the lowest paid HGV drivers in the workforce.”

Drivers are also standing in solidarity with staff who have been offered £10.14.

One loader, a 21-year-old who is living at home with his parents in Moston, said he does an average of 27,000 steps every day, but he gets ‘nothing’ in return.

He said: “I don’t want to be too greedy, but offering 17p is just taking the p***.”

Bin men worked throughout the pandemic while people stayed at home and produced more waste with ‘double the amount’ collected, according to staff.

But staff say they did not receive any thanks from Biffa for this extra work.

Another driver said: “There’s more recycling and there’s more waste. And there’s more properties going up now too. It’s just making the job harder.”

Employees have noticed more agency staff being inducted recently and suspect this is because Biffa have been preparing for the strikes to take place.

Trade unions must give employers two weeks’ notice before taking industrial action which means the strikes will coincide with the local elections on 5 May.

Both unions are set to start the industrial action on 3 May and will continue until 13 May with a further two-week strike planned from 23 May to 3 June.

Bin strikes have also been planned by refuse staff elsewhere across the country including by Biffa workers in the Wealden area of East Sussex.

What has Biffa and the city council said in response?

A Biffa spokesperson said: “We are in active and ongoing negotiations with the unions and remain committed to reaching a solution as quickly as possible.”

A Manchester city council spokesperson said: “The negotiations are ongoing between Biffa and the unions and we would urge them to reach an agreed way forward to avoid disruption to Manchester residents.

“We are continuing to work with Biffa to explore contingency plans to mitigate the potential impact of industrial action to help minimise the impact on refuse collection in the city and to ensure our streets are kept clean.

“These plans will respond to the exact nature and extent of the industrial action, and we will look to limit the disruption to residents as much as possible.”