Camden Council’s parking wardens head for mass walkout next week

Some 170 Unison members working for Camden Council’s outsourced parking enforcement contractor, NSL Services, are set to strike for the third time this year.

The threatened five-day action is due to start next Monday (10 December 2012) and will mark a dramatic escalation of a lengthy and increasingly bitter dispute over pay and conditions.

Camden’s traffic wardens, most of whom earn just £8.09 an hour and work a standard 42.5 hour week, mounted a two-day strike in July and a further three-day walkout in August, followed by an indefinite overtime ban.

The London Living Wage (LLW) was set in spring 2011 at £8.30 an hour. In November this year Mayor Boris Johnson announced an increase in the LLW to £8.55 an hour. Camden Council’s Cabinet agreed to move towards the implementation of LLW for workers on outsourced contracts on 18 July. Camden Council’s ruling Labour group introduced LLW as a minimum for all direct Council employees, but in contrast to its 2010 manifesto pledges Unison say there has been no real movement towards LLW or indeed any improvements in pay and conditions for hundreds of other workers on outsourced contracts since May 2010.

The strike threat comes after Unison had tabled a revised proposal for a three-year deal, which NSL’s management categorically rejected on Friday 30 November. NSL Services, which recorded an operating profit of nearly £10 million last year, has claimed it could not afford an additional 14 pence above its previous offer on the basic hourly wage, backdated to 1 September. The Unison offer would have seen basic wages rise to £8.55 an hour, eventually rising £9.07 by April 2014.

Voicing both anger and disappointment at the company’s response, Unison branch secretary George Binette said, “The company received an increase of more than 2.5% for this financial year from Camden Council yet it has yet to pay an additional penny on the hour to the vast majority of the workforce as 2012 draws to a close.

Referring to the Labour-led council, he added, “The union tried to engage the council leadership around this dispute from the summer onwards. Given its professed concern with the low-paid we had hoped for a much earlier response. Apparently there was an intervention, but now it seems that the council can’t exercise any meaningful influence with NSL, a company with which Camden has a six-year contract, valued at £44.6 million, which in turn generates more than £18.5 million for Camden’s coffers.”

Whilst Camden Council seem to either have no control or are just unwilling to step into the dispute with its outsourcing contractor it’s worth noting that Camden pay NSL a massive £13 per hour for every Traffic Warden NSL supply. NSL on the other hand are only willing to pass on just £8.09 of the £13 hourly rate to most of their parking wardens. NSL which reported an operating profit of £9.98m for the calendar year 2011, did manage to scrape together a pay and pensions package for its senior executives topping £500,000.

We conservatively estimate the proposed five day walkout could cost Camden Council over £250,000 in lost revenue during the run up to the busy Christmas period.

Unison branch co-chair Phoebe Watkins said, “Few of us fancy the prospect of an extended strike, especially in the run-up to Christmas. But NSL’s hard-line stance has left these low-paid workers with little alternative but to continue their fight. NSL management may be hoping to break the union by prolonging the dispute, but our members are determined to prove them wrong.

In 2009 Camden Council, then under the control of a Liberal Democrat-Conservative administration, awarded the parking enforcement contract to NSL Services, worth an estimated £44.6m over six years (2010-2016).

Troubled NSL saw its Ealing Civil Enforcement Officers strike in a dispute over a sacked Unite union member in April this year. That walkout was just a couple of  months after NSL achieved national media attention when they embarrassingly lost an employment tribunal case against Hakim Berkani, a former Kensington & Chelsea NSL employee who had tried to introduce GMB union representation in the borough.

 

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