Refuse workers across east Suffolk will today begin voting on strike action over a pay offer that "fails to address years of stagnant wages", a union has said.

UNISON, which represents and acts for members working in a range of public services and utilities, is urging Norfolk County Council-owned Norse and East Suffolk Council, which are jointly responsible for the contract, to make an improved offer and avoid disruption to residents.

"Workers are struggling to cope with the rising cost-of-living, coming after more than a decade of below-inflation pay deals," said the union.

"Many are now making just above the minimum wage, with some forced to sleep on friends’ sofas and take out loans to pay the bills because they cannot make ends meet."

East Suffolk Norse has offered to implement a nationally agreed £1,925 pay rise - which has been offered to other local government workers - plus an extra 75p an hour.

But refuse staff argue this will still leave them battling to keep their heads above water.

Balloting will last over the next three weeks.

UNISON Eastern regional organiser Cameron Matthews said: “No-one can doubt refuse workers’ commitment to keeping east Suffolk running – they’ve gone out in all weathers and through a global pandemic in the last decade but have still seen the value of their wages fall and fall.

“This offer may seem good on paper but it still leaves workers just above the poverty line. None of them want to go on strike and cause disruption to residents but bosses’ thanks haven’t put food on the table.

“We urge Norse and East Suffolk to come up with an offer that addresses the rock-bottom wages on this contract and treat refuse staff with the dignity they deserve.”

A spokesman for East Suffolk Council said: “We are incredibly disappointed that the offer presented by Waveney Norse Ltd and Suffolk Coastal Norse Ltd has not been agreed by union representatives.

"The threatened industrial action would be in nobody’s interests – particularly our customers who rely on the services that we provide.

“We believe this is a generous offer to operational staff, which in some cases would see salaries rise by no less than 17%; and with the possibility of a further productivity-related pay review plus a commitment to a full review of terms and conditions.

“It is also promised that any pay rise would be immediate, ahead of the national settlement which is expected in due course.

“We entirely understand that everyone is facing cost-of-living pressures and we have welcomed the opportunity to seek a resolution in good faith.

“However, it is simply not possible for every demand to be met, and we do not believe, in this case, that the union is showing a realistic understanding of what is fair and achievable.”

In addition to the pay rise, East Suffolk Council has also offered workers a commitment to a further pay review on completion of a review of refuse collection rounds; an additional day’s holiday for all eligible East Suffolk Norse employees currently on less 23 days per year, with effect from 1 April 2023, and commitment to a full review of employment terms and conditions (including sick pay) in July 2023.