Hampshire & Isle of Wight

Southampton strike rubbish 'will take weeks to clear'

Rubbish in central Southampton
Image caption Refuse staff are due to strike again from 11 July

Uncollected bin bags piling up across Southampton due to a strike by refuse collectors will take "many weeks" to clear, the city council has said.

Hundreds of refuse workers returned to work for four days from Tuesday but are due to strike again from Monday.

They are among Southampton City Council workers who have been taking action since 23 May over cuts.

The Tory-led council says the pay cuts will save 400 jobs but Unite and Unison say staff are being "blackmailed".

The unions have also accused the council of cancelling talks to resolve the dispute.

They said the two sides were due to meet earlier with the conciliation service Acas but the council said although a further meeting was considered it had never been arranged.

Councillor Royston Smith, council leader, claims the unions have refused to remove a precondition and unless they do so, it is not worth meeting.

He said: "The council has also made a final offer which remains on the table and which the unions and our staff understand.

"We do not need a meeting to discuss this offer but would happily meet to talk about implementing our proposal."

The council has set a deadline of 11 July for workers to accept new terms and conditions or else they will be made redundant.

But Unison and Unite want the council to pull dismissal notices for staff who would not sign a new contract by that date.

Health and safety risks

Council bosses said the authority had hired four extra agency refuse trucks to try to clear the backlog of rubbish.

They said the council would continue hiring agency workers when the refuse collectors go back on strike next week, but had struggled to find staff willing to break the walkout.

Andrew Trayer, head of waste and fleet transport at the council, said about 1,200 to 1,400 tonnes of waste could be collected this week before Monday's walkout.

"We won't get it all cleared but we will undoubtedly see a difference.

"Those areas that were attended to yesterday have already seen a significant difference but it would be wrong to raise people's hopes and expectations and say that we'll be able to collect all the waste because in four days, quite plainly, we won't.

Image caption The council is hiring extra agency staff to clear the backlog of rubbish across the city

"We've focussed our attention mainly on fire and health and safety risks."

He said if refuse collectors went back to work after next week's strike and additional agency staff were brought in, then the backlog might be cleared in two to three weeks.

Without the extra help, it would take "some considerable time, many weeks".

The refuse collectors will be joined on strike next week by 13 city council port health workers, the aim being to cause major disruption to ships, Unite and Unison said.

Library staff, street cleaners, toll collectors, social care supervisors and vehicle mechanics are also due to strike.

In February, Southampton City Council finalised budget cuts of £25m and said all workers earning more than £17,500, which is 65% of staff, would have their pay cut.

During recent talks with unions, the council had offered that anyone earning £22,000 or less would no longer have their pay cut - but the negotiations broke down.

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