Cllr Claire Holland is Deputy Leader of Lambeth and Cabinet Member for Environment & Clean Air, and a councillor in Oval ward.
My old man was not a dustman, nor did he have a dustman’s hat, but he did wear “cor blimey trousers” (Sorry Dad) and he did rear me on this song. I am sure our refuse workers are exasperated at the references to this old time great (or maybe they haven’t even heard of it). I was raised to respect the contribution of front line workers, whether it be Liverpool Dockers or NHS laundry workers. Forgive me for any sentimentality or cliché but I think it has something to teach us right now.
In Lambeth, we have a workforce that has shown extraordinary commitment and resilience. NHS workers, adult social carers and classroom assistants. All turning out to work in the face of a global crises. And not least our amazing refuse collectors: our bin men and women.
Our refuse workers and street cleaners are still hard at work, in the face of all the challenges, emptying our bins, sorting our recycling from our waste so that when things return to normal (whenever that may be), we haven’t left a landfill explosion behind us. It’s difficult enough to do most jobs whilst sticking to the current government guidance, including keeping a safe two-metre distance away from others, never mind impossible when you are three people in a refuse truck cab doing the rounds.
Our refuse workers are doing an extraordinary job in planning, collaborating and working creatively to maintain a full service, to make sure it’s business as usual for as long as we can make it so.
In Lambeth, we are determined that Labour values are at the heart of all we do even – no, especially- in times of crisis. We are defined by who we are when the obstacles seem insurmountable. We were already one of the first London Living Wage Councils and through our Responsible Procurement Strategy we now insist that anyone who does business with us pays the London Living Wage too. We have long lobbied the government to pay our front line workers a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work and last October we passed the GMB motion calling for justice pay, demanding the government catch up local government pay.
And now in the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak, with all its uncertainties, we are treating our agency staff as permanent, so they will be paid if sick or self-isolating and, in addition, we have introduced free parking for all NHS staff and key workers in the borough.
This global crisis has brought front line essential work out of the shadows, into the spotlight. Our care workers and bin collectors are finally, publicly being acknowledged by everyone – even by a Conservative government. Our challenge in local government will be to hold central government to their crisis-driven words. But that is for another day.
Right now, I want to take this opportunity to thank our refuse workers, street sweepers, and our cleaners. The big dust carts some of you drive may be noisy, but your commitment is unsung, quiet and remarkable. Thank you for all you do.
Cllr Claire Holland