Bin strikes east London: Tower Hamlets rubbish piling up as refuse workers extend strike

Rubbish was seen piled up along Whitechapel Road just two days into the strike by refuse workers at Tower Hamlets Council. Credit: Ben Lynch.
Rubbish was seen piled up along Whitechapel Road just two days into the strike by refuse workers at Tower Hamlets Council. Credit: Ben Lynch.

Piles of rubbish are building up in east London as refuse workers and cleaners begin a four-week strike over pay.

More than 200 Tower Hamlets Council workers downed tools on September 18 after rejecting the national local government pay offer of a flat increase of £1,925.

Initially due to run until October 1, the action has been extended by a further two weeks after management failed to make an improved offer at a meeting on September 15, according to the union Unite.

More of the rubbish seen along Whitechapel Road. Credit: Ben Lynch.
More of the rubbish seen along Whitechapel Road. Credit: Ben Lynch.

At a protest jointly-held with striking members from Barts Health NHS Trust earlier today (September 20) outside Whitechapel’s Royal London Hospital, Unite’s regional officer, Nick West, told LondonWorld the union went to the council with two solutions, as well as more localised offers, to try to end the strike, but that they were “batted away”.

“So we’ve said to the council, it’s kind of your time to come forward with a solution to us.”

Evidence of the strike’s impact could already be seen along Whitechapel Road just two days in, with multiple mounds of rubbish clearly visible to those outside the hospital. Tower Hamlets Council’s town hall, which is in the old Royal London Hospital, is next door.

Mr West said: “You can see behind me just behind the strike, you can see the rubbish is piling up. It’s been two days of strike action, our members are taking four weeks of strike action. They don’t want to have to do it, but they see no alternative to be able to address the cost of living crisis specifically for them.”

A Tower Hamlets Council spokesperson said: “We have been informed by Unite that their members will continue to strike for another two weeks after October 1. Naturally we are disappointed as keeping Tower Hamlets’ streets clean and litter free is our priority.

“The strike is over a national pay dispute and this is not something we can negotiate at a local level. However, we have been in discussions with union representatives before and during the strike and remain hopeful of a resolution.

“We have reallocated all non-striking staff to help clear waste and have a number of vehicles ready to make collections, but so far these have been blocked from leaving the depot every time by strikers. We are assessing the health and safety risks on a daily basis.”

Refuse workers and hospital staff join forces

This morning’s protest, which featured speakers including Poplar and Limehouse MP Apsana Begum and Unite’s national lead officer, Onay Kasab, saw the refuse workers and staff at Barts Health NHS Trust join forces in solidarity over their separate battles over pay.

British Medical Association (BMA) members at the east London Trust are in dispute over a £1,655 lump sum payment promised as part of the NHS pay settlement for 2022/23. The payment was not received by some as at the time of the settlement their roles were outsourced through Serco and so they did not qualify. In April they came back in house.

Diane, a nurse who was at the protest, described the action as “essential” to protect health services at the Trust.

“We need more staff on the ground to keep patients safe,” she said, before adding: “And they say we are making [patients] unsafe.”

Ms Begum told LondonWorld: “Whether In parliament and on picket lines - I am in solidarity with striking workers standing up against unfair wages and working conditions.

“As the cost-of-living crisis continues to hurt workers everywhere and more and more people can’t make ends meet, it is unacceptable to propose real terms pay cuts.

“Rather than listening to workers, Tory anti-trade union laws seek to make it even harder for working people to organise for their rights.

“All people deserve fair pay whether that is hospital cleaners or junior doctors or refuse workers.

“We must stand together against these attacks on our way of life.”

Ahead of the strike, Mr Kasab said: “Whether you’re a refuse worker, a cleaner or a doctor, decent pay and safe working are cornerstones of a fair society.

“Crucially, our union is taking the action that is necessary to win. Our members will not be made to pay the price for austerity and years of real terms cuts to public funding. It is time for local authorities and health trusts to say no more cuts and to stand with Unite and local communities to demand the necessary funding for our public services.”

Barts Health NHS Trust has been approached for comment.