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Southampton refuse workers launch industrial action

Council staff in Southampton, including street cleaners and refuse collectors, have taken industrial action over allegations by Unite the Union that the city council is “sacking” people and re-employing them on “substantially lower” terms and conditions.

The strike, which begun on 23 May and concluded on 27 May, was launched by unions Unite and Unison and involved 108 refuse staff. Other workers involved in the industrial action took steps short of a strike by using work to rule tactics, a ban on overtime and a ban on mobile phone use.

Unite assistant general secretary Gail Cartmail said: “The tactic being deployed by Southampton City Council is possible because UK employment law reinforces the medieval ‘master-servant’ principle that has no place in the 21st century. Our members are standing up for basic human rights.  The actions of Southampton council should be condemned by all decent people.”

Council leader Royston Smith expressed disappointment over the decision to strike.

He said: “Fewer than 500 staff voted to strike, and I don’t believe they are representative of the majority who just want to get on and deliver services for the city and its residents.

“While I fully understand that any reduction in wages will be difficult for our staff, this is the only way to protect our residents from losing their libraries, leisure centres and Sure Start services.

“The reality is that, without making changes to staff terms and conditions, we would be looking at losing a further 400 jobs over the next two years. That would mean dozens of front-line services, that our residents rely on, facing the axe. I am determined not to allow that to happen.  Southampton deserves better.”

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