Rubbish spills onto streets as industrial action continues
Union says pay offer would be well below inflation; council says it is ‘fair and reasonable’
Wednesday, April 27, 2022
MORELAND City Council has been accused of offering workers a real wage cut as an industrial dispute spills onto the streets of Brunswick.
Union work bans on street cleaning and litter pick up which have been in place for a week are starting to have a visible impact with overflowing rubbish bins spilling onto footpaths.
Up and down Sydney Road this week, Brunswick Voice observed bins full to capacity with coffee cups, takeaway food containers, soft drink cans and other rubbish, while cigarette butts and litter were scattered on gutters and footpaths.
Members of the Australian Services Union began the bans on April 20 following a protected action ballot over a new enterprise bargaining agreement at Moreland Council.
Twenty-five bans are in place, including restrictions on street cleaning and sweeping, such as clearing street litter bins, litter pick up, and collection of garbage on council reserves.
Other bans include refusing to respond to non-urgent requests by councillors; not fixing or servicing council fleet, plant or equipment, except for safety reasons; refusing to take phone calls outside of working hours, and interrupting children’s storytime at council libraries to inform parents about the EBA campaign.
Union members are wearing badges in support of their claims and in-home support workers are performing their duties in plain clothes rather than council uniforms.
ASU Victorian Secretary Lisa Darmanin said the workers had been left with no choice but to escalate industrial action because of council management’s insistence on a wage rise that was below the rate of inflation.
Bargaining has been underway since last August and while both parties say there have been improvements, the pay offer remains a sticking point.
The union says major points of disagreement in the EBA negotiations are management’s push for a real wage cut and refusal to seriously consider union claims to address a toxic workplace culture, a regular span of hours for library staff, and paid pandemic leave.
Moreland City Council is offering pay rises that will see workers worse off, the union says. Moreland’s pay offer is 1.5% for this year, 2% for 2022-23, 2% or the rate cap (whichever is greater) for 2023-24, and 2% or the rate cap (whichever is greater) for 2024-25. Their last pay rise was close to two years ago.
With inflation increasing by 5% over the past year, this would be a real reduction in workers’ wages.
“It’s regrettable that the current bans are having an impact on the community, but workers at Moreland City Council are unwilling to accept a real pay cut and want a workplace with a positive workplace culture,” Ms Darmanin said
“Management at Moreland City Council can avoid an escalation in industrial action by making a fair pay offer and negotiating on workers’ serious and reasonable claims.”
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The council insists it has offered a “fair and reasonable” pay rise that compares favourably to 13 other metropolitan Melbourne councils.
It says it is constrained by the council budget and a State Government rate cap of 1.75%, which limits its ability to raise income from rates.
The council’s proposed budget for 2022-23, which was adopted on Wednesday night, forecasts an underlying operating surplus of $21.6 million coming off a 2% increase in revenue to $243.5 million.
Total employee costs are also expected to rise by 2% to $100.6 million.
The council maintains it does not expect the protected industrial action to have a significant impact on services, or jeopardise the health and safety of our community or staff, but is putting contigency plans in place.
“We are working to urgently resolve the issue with collection of waste from public bins along Sydney Road,” said council CEO Cathy Henderson.
“While we acknowledge the legal right of staff to take protected industrial action under Commonwealth law, it is regrettable and unfortunate. We thank residents for their patience and expect this will be resolved very soon.”
The union is seeking to enlist the support of residents and ratepayers by asking them to post messages of solidarity with the workers on the council’s social media properties.
Hard rubbish delays
The industrial action is a further setback for the council which is attempting to overcome a backlog which has set back the bi-annual hard rubbish collection by weeks.
In a statement posted on its website, the council attributed the delays to COVID-related staff shortages experienced by its contractor, WM Waste Management.
It said the contractor had attempted to deal with this through additional shifts on weekends and Easter Monday.
But it still means that hard rubbish collection is three weeks behind schedule and is now not due to be completed until mid-May.
“Staffing levels on a given day have been regularly at 60-70% of normal levels,” the council statement said. “This means that instead of 10 trucks, the contractor has been fielding only six or seven on many days.
“These staff shortages have been combined with higher rates of discarded hard waste than previous years, 90% this year compared to 75% in previous years.
“Unfortunately the combination of fewer resources and higher amounts of rubbish have resulted in large amounts of hard waste waiting to be collected.”
A council spokesperson said a separate industrial dispute between the Transport Workers Union and waste management company Cleanaway did not impact on council services as the council did not have any contracts with the company.
The spokesperson said Cleanaway had contracts with private businesses and organisations like schools in Moreland, but not with the council itself.
TWU members have been holding stop work meetings and banning overtime in an ongoing pay dispute with Cleanaway.
Disclaimer: the author is a member of the MEAA and the ASU.