‘We are not greedy. All we are after is a fair wage for the job we are doing’
Northampton’s refuse collectors will be on strike over Christmas unless the company contracted by West Northamptonshire Council agrees to pay them more
By Sarah Ward
“No-one wants to come and work for us - because the wages are so low. They all want to go elsewhere. So we don’t have the drivers to cover everything that we need. No one wants to come driving for us.”
Luke Noyce has worked as a refuse truck driver for Veolia for five years and earns £12.50 an hour. His colleagues who collect the rubbish from Northampton’s streets and load it into the van are paid £10.50 an hour (eight pence above the minimum wage). This year the workers have been given a £25 gift card as a Christmas bonus.
So after a ballot by the GMB union, the workers have decided to take industrial action over Christmas and new year, unless the company agrees to pay more. 79 of the 85 workers who work in the Northampton site are GMB members.
“Inflation has gone up, everything has just gone crazy high.
“Veolia is a massive company. We are providing a service, but all they are after is their own profits.
“Everyone [fellow refuse workers] in the surrounding areas are on a lot more money than we are on. We are not greedy or anything. All we are after is a fair wage for the job we are doing.
“All the way around us people are on £14.50 upwards.
“At the moment everyone is struggling. There is a thick atmosphere of everyone’s internal pressures.”
He says the staff are all committed to the job and continued working all throughout the pandemic when many other sectors were furloughed.
“We all worked through Covid. Every week we visited every house. Every week. It’s really unfair.”
GMB organiser Rachelle Wilkins says that workers are asking for a pay rise which will see an hourly rate of £15. Following the announcement of the strikes earlier this week she says the company, which has up until now refused to enter discussions, has now said it will talk.
Veolia has an existing ten-year contract with West Northamptonshire Council (WNC), which was awarded by the former Northampton Borough Council in 2018. The annual contract is worth around £13m. In its most recent financial year the French multinational company reported an annual revenue of more than 40 billions euros and said its strong performance was because almost three quarters of its contracts were index linked to inflation. NN Journal has asked WNC whether the contract is index linked.
Northampton workers will hope the company agrees to their demands as they did in September when workers at Solihull Borough Council threatened industrial action over pay.
A Veolia spokesperson said:
“Veolia and the GMB union negotiated and agreed a two-year pay deal for employees in Northampton in 2022 which runs until April 2024. Veolia has honoured the agreement that both the company and the GMB entered into.
“Veolia has offered and remains committed to engage in early pay discussions for 2024. We encourage the GMB to meet with us on this basis so we can find a resolution for our people and avoid any disruption to residents’ services.”
WNC is currently staying out of the issue, at least in public. A spokesperson said:
“We have recently been made aware of planned action on 28 December. This is primarily a matter between Veolia and their staff and as part of the contract Veolia have the responsibility to put in place contingency measures to support our residents and ensure as little disruption as possible.
“We continue to communicate with Veolia to ensure that residents are clearly informed of any potential disruption.”