BY SAM COURTNEY-GUY
Embittered traffic wardens are on strike over “draconian” working terms they claim have left sick and injured staff struggling to make ends meet.
Half of all parking attendants employed by a private contractor on behalf of Wandsworth council took action last week and were expected to continue on Tuesday, according to council workers’ union the GMB.
The union says Wandsworth’s wardens are not covered for accidents at work and many do not receive sick pay.
Those who do receive no pay for their first three days off and are penalised for successive absences no matter their medical circumstances.
Contractor NSL has been accused of risking the health and safety of staff and trying to use sick pay entitlement to push workers on to a contract which slashes other benefits.
Significant aspects of sick pay decisions are at managers’ discretion and often based on whether employees are “liked” or not, said GMB regional organiser Paul Grafton, He said: “These are draconian terms of employment.
NSL Wandsworth complain they have the highest sickness rates in London – but if anything that shows their aggressive sickness policy is making it worse.”
Another warden, John Olufemi, said how he faced disciplinary proceedings for missing work due to a knee injury despite having a doctor’s certificate.
He described a colleague suffering a “mental breakdown” after a ‘code red’ incident on the streets led to “spiralling” mental health issues during which he felt unable to take time off work for fear of financial difficulties.
“Even if you do take time off, you feel pressured to come back to work without healing fully,” Mr Olufemi said. “We’re working in the elements every day. Traffic wardens have been threatened with knives, beaten – all sorts. “We need adequate support.”
He claimed a points-based system known as the Bradford Factor designed to measure absence was instead being used as a “whip”. He said workers’ records were marked down much faster if they had a succession of shorter absences than if they took the same amount of time off in one block.
Many businesses adjust their use of the formula to take account of medical conditions and disabilities.
Mr Olufemi said he and all other wardens kept on when NSL won Wandsworth’s £15million parking services contract in 2016 were being refused sick pay entitlements unless they signed up to a new contract with worse terms in other areas.
Employees such as Mr Olufemi, who has served Wandsworth for more than seven years, were able to accumulate extra annual leave. It’s claimed moped users receive £1.30 per hour in risk allowances and push bike users receive 50p per hour.
But on the new contract, leave is permanently capped at 20 days, while moped risk allowances are cut to 80p and push bike allowances are scrapped, he said.
Mr Olufemi added: “It is a tool to divide the workforce. Our previous employer, Mouchel, was better – especially when it came to absence. “At least in that aspect they were human.
They would examine your evidence on a person-to-person basis, and once an illness was authenticated it was never held over you. “We don’t want to keep striking – it’s not in our favour to. But as long as they refuse to negotiate, we’re left with no choice.”
Parking attendants employed on NSL’s contract with Westminster council are also on strike over the same issues and to demand the London Living Wage, which, unlike Wandsworth wardens, they are denied. In 2012, a judge ruled NSL operated a “clandestine quota system” in Kensington and Chelsea, pressuring parking attendants to issue tickets in a “predatory and dishonest” way.
NSL denied the claims. Wandsworth’s surpluses from council parking operations were £20.5million in 2016/17 according to the RAC Foundation – ranking them sixth across England. He called on the councils to “bring services back in-house and treat their workers decently”.
An NSL’s spokesman said: “NSL is honouring in full a five-year pay agreement signed by the GMB last year and we are surprised and disappointed that further strikes are being threatened as part of an additional pay claim.
“We have made a substantial offer to the GMB which would provide sick pay for all colleagues, but understand that our full offer has not been communicated to GMB members.
“Since NSL were awarded the contract to provide Civil Enforcement Officers in Wandsworth, the basic rate of pay has increased by over 25 per cent in just two years.
“Colleagues with transferred protected terms and conditions are paid additional allowances which we have continued to honour.
“NSL provide an occupational sick pay scheme and we have offered all transferred staff the opportunity to move to these terms, however the union are attempting to cherry-pick terms from both contracts.”
A Wandsworth council spokesman said: “The issues relating to pay and conditions are issues that need to be resolved between the company, its employees and the trade union.”