FOR THE THIRD time in six years traffic wardens in Camden, north London, look set to mount picket lines in a battle with the borough’s parking contractor, NSL. A five-day strike is due to start on Monday 1st October in pursuit of an outstanding pay claim after Unison members voted nine-to-one on a 57% turnout for action.
NSL has held the Camden contract, the country’s third largest, for the past decade and currently has some 60 local authority parking contracts around England as part of a business model reliant on profits from the outsourcing of public services including NHS patient transport. Ultimate ownership of the firm has bounced between private equity outfits and currently rests with Marston Holdings.
The Camden workforce is largely male and predominantly black African. Traffic wardens routinely face verbal, frequently racist, abuse from irate motorists. Earlier this year two NSL employees in Camden suffered injuries from physical attacks while on the job, with one requiring hospitalisation for facial and head wounds inflicted with a chain.
Camden’s traffic wardens are among the most highly unionised groups of outsourced workers in the country with some 80% in Unison membership. A tradition of militancy has developed in recent years with eleven days of action in 2015 securing a three-year deal that established a minimum hourly rate linked to the London Living Wage plus 25 pence. The company is offering a continuation of that arrangement, but workers are demanding an additional 70 pence an hour to achieve parity with NSL employees on the Waltham Forest contract.
The current dispute could well prove a bitter one as NSL shipped in strikebreakers from as far away as Blackpool and Manchester in an effort to undermine the 2015 action. Meanwhile, the traffic wardens are out to demonstrate that the London Living Wage must be a minimum rather than a maximum wage. They are also posing once again a critical question to a Labour-controlled council: how much longer is it prepared to subsidise corporate profits for running a public service, which is often unpopular, but actually safeguards the public and generates vital revenue for Camden?
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