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What we need are more binmen in this world
Now more than ever, as we cope with crippling financial crisis and general malaise, what we need are strong, positive role models.
It struck me this week we need look no further than Southampton's bin men to find those to emulate.
They have always shone through, of course, as fine, hard-working chaps, but Tuesday saw final confirmation in my eyes of our binmen's selfless character.
Last week in this column I wondered out loud just what detail the trumpeted deal to bring to an end the conflict between Southampton City Council and council employee unions would actually contain.
How would the square be circled as the authority under its new - well fairly new - Labour administration sought to fulfill it's election pledges to restore pay cuts to council staff, avoid any new job losses and prevent cut backs in services.
On Tuesday we learnt the detail of the deal now to be put to union members for final agreement. In essence it confirmed that pay levels would be restored - apart from those earning over £65,000 and there I shall shed no tears - but there was an immediate sting in the tail.
Unions had claimed 4,000 council staff could win three months worth of salary in compensation from the council in a legal claim. Unite and Unison claimed the council under Tory rule had not carried out the correct procedure for consultation before salaries were reduced.
So certain were they of victory that the unions advertised - in this paper and elsewhere - for non-union staff to join up and benefit from the legal bid. It was a clever and, no doubt, an effective recruitment strategy.
So concerned were the then ruling Tories that the council would lose such a legal challenge, my sources tell me, that following advice the council put aside £600,000 a year to cover the cost of the £12m loan it would need to meet the compensation payouts.
The city must breathe a sigh of relief then that the unions have agreed to call off their legal challenge for compensation as part of the deal. Quite whether that is how union members will see the loss of their three months salary in compensation - amounting to £6,000 or more for some staff - I cannot say. Certainly if I was an employee who had signed up to the union and their promises I would now be seeking a refund on my union fees.
No doubt Unison and Unite will point to the pay level restoration and claim this as fair compensation. But this was something Labour had promised already to do in their election manifesto. Pay restoration then was already in the bag.
Quite why the unions have then thrown away a certain £12m pay day for members I can only speculate on. A cynic might say, that having seen their political allies into power they had achieved their aims and dropping the compo claim was quid pro quo. But who am I to say if this is correct.
Certainly council staff, now asked to sign off on the no compo but more pay deal will be mightily miffed if they then discover in the council's mini budget planned for November they are faced with hundreds of job losses as a result, which is what Tories in opposition predict. Certainly the people of Southampton will be more than miffed if to restore pay and maintain jobs services are hacked to smithereens. But there I am being cynical again, and I'm trying avoid that at a time where we need to remain positive.
Which brings me back to our fine binmen and their example in all this.
You will recall that that it was strike action by the binmen (there are no women bytheway) that finally brought the city to its knees in the council's pay cuts dispute. Streets lined with rotting, stinking garbage symbolised the whole, sorry saga.
The irony was, the binmen were not facing a pay cut at all. With salaries under the £17,500 threshold no binmen lost any salary, in fact they were due to gain £600-a-year under the Tories. But still they went on strike, one can only imagine in solidarity with their fellow union members.
Now a cynic, not me you understand, might have thought no one, not even our bin-chaps, would do something for nothing, and that come the day the deals were done there would be a silver lining in it for them for their time spent on the picket lines.
But cynics, eat your thoughts, for come Tuesday's agreement and we see that no, no rise for the binmen, not even the £600 originally on offer. They gained nothing more from turning the city's streets into rotting sewers than the thanks of colleagues who now see their pay restored.
How selfless of them. What an example to us all.
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