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Liz Wheatley
Job title
UNISON Camden Branch Secretary
Camden traffic wardens are celebrating after securing a big pay boost in their long-running dispute with NSL, Camden Council’s private contractor, thanks to UNISON.

More than 100 workers took 59 days of strike action this summer from Monday 24 July in their battle to secure a fair pay deal, following an original offer of just 57p an hour. 

The new deal will see pay increased from £12.70 an hour to £15 an hour, backdated from April this year. From April 2024 they will receive £15.90 an hour and there will be a further increase of either 60p an hour or the RPI rate of inflation in April 2025. This means staff will be on a minimum hourly rate of £16.50 by 2025. 

UNISON Camden Branch Secretary Liz Wheatley talked to the TUC about how their members pushed for a fair pay rise – and won. 

The pay claim 

Liz said: “Going into this pay claim workers were on £12.70 an hour for the lowest paid, with slightly higher rates for other roles. 

“We submitted a pay claim for £15.90 an hour. This was based on a £15 minimum wage being UNISON policy, and the 90p was the London living wage uplift, so a form of London weighting. 

In the negotiations, the company came back with an offer of £13.27, which we felt fell far too short in this cost of living crisis. The offer was rejected, and we balloted our members on action. 

The ballot result was a fantastic 73% turnout – and a resounding 100% yes vote for strike action, including continuous action.” 


Indefinite strike  

Liz explained what happened next: “On 24 July, our traffic wardens walked out on indefinite strike. For the next 59 days we had huge picket lines, protests at the parent company HQ in Birmingham and protests outside the main Camden Council building. 

“We also leafleted the borough and had a number of local marches and rallies. 

It was vital to keep our members fully briefed and fully involved, so we had regular mass meetings, two to three times every week. 

Members received strike pay from UNISON, and we supported hardship claims where appropriate. 

The strength of feeling and action was such that management had no choice but to listen. Eventually, we got an offer where the first year was £15ph, but the caveat was that years two and three would only be an increase in line with CPI inflation (we had put in a one-year claim).” 


Unanimous rejection 

The updated offer still fell short of what members wanted. Liz said: “This offer was also unanimously rejected on the basis that a CPI inflation increase in years two and three would effectively mean handing back the extra money members had won in year one. 

“We agreed to go to ACAS to resolve the dispute. And following on from those talks, we were made an offer of £15ph in year 1, £15.90 in year two and £16.50 or RPI rate of inflation, whichever is the highest, in year three. 

These figures were for the lowest paid and the differentials between roles will be maintained. This was accepted in a ballot of members. And so, after 59 strike days, they went back in to work.” 

A huge win 

Liz said: “This is a huge win for our members. After eight weeks of strikes they have finally been offered a proper pay deal. 

It works out as an 18.1% pay increase, or a £5k rise in this year alone. 

And the pay boost is no more than these workers deserve. Their determination to fight for fairness is a real inspiration. I’ve no doubt that other workers will be encouraged by the success of their long-running battle for fair wages. 

It shows what can be done when we stick together. And it also opens the door to us campaigning for them to come back in house – after being outsourced nearly 20 years ago – because now the salary is pretty much what it would be if they were council employees. 

That would make another big difference for them as it would increase annual leave, improve sick pay and pensions.” 

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