These CEOs are worth it – back the traffic wardens strike!


“The basic hourly rate for most CEOs is just £12.70 for long shifts whatever the weather with the threat of violence sometimes turning into an ugly reality.”

By George Binette

Traffic wardens command little respect from many motorists – in fact, they all too often face racist verbal abuse and even vicious physical assaults as they carry out their jobs. But over the past decade, these workers, properly known as Civil Enforcement Officers (CEOs), have begun to organise to improve their abysmally low pay and working conditions in several London boroughs, and nowhere more so than in Camden.

On Monday 24 July scores of Camden’s CEOs, employed on an outsourced contract with “market leader” NSL, launched an indefinite strike to back their demand for a substantial real pay rise. The latest walkout marks the fourth time since the summer of 2012 that CEOs, organised in the Camden branch of UNISON, have mounted a strike. The current action comes after a 100% “yes” vote on a 73% turnout among some 120 UNISON members.


Camden along with many other local authorities privatised its parking enforcement function around the turn of the century. While previous Camden Council employees enjoyed some protection under the TUPE regulations, union organisation was weak and there was little opposition to the recruitment of new CEOs on far worse pay and conditions as the ex-Council workforce left for more attractive jobs, occasionally faced victimisation or simply retired. There had also been significant change in the workforce’s make-up, which had become predominantly Black African among those responsible for street-level enforcement.

From the perspective of New Labour councillors and senior council officers, privatisation of the service had achieved its primary goal: slashing labour costs, By 2010, pay for most CEOs had slumped dramatically to just a few pence above the national minimum wage. For outfits like NSL, which is now part of Birmingham-based Marston Holdings, council contracts provide a guaranteed revenue stream over several years for minimal capital investment. Past strikes have shown that the council excuses the company’s failure to meet contractual performance indicators on the basis that industrial action equates to “an act of God” (force majeure).

Unionisation Drive

There were certainly rumblings of discontent as NSL took over the Camden contract more than 15 years ago, but union membership was very low and organisation non-existent. The local UNISON branch, however, decided to devote resources to recruitment and the development of shop stewards across the then six workplaces. Gradually, leafleting outside bases and discreet conversations with workers boosted membership.

Though it took more than three years union density had soared, workplace representatives were in place and there was strong support for industrial action by the summer of 2012. That year’s strike secured a very modest gain and proved a sharp learning curve for all concerned, but union organisation emerged stronger, laying the basis for further, more successful action in 2015 and 2018-19.

Eleven years later the chants on the picket lines remain much the same: “Low Pay, No Way” and “NSL – No Slave Labour”. The basic hourly rate for most CEOs is just £12.70 for long shifts whatever the weather with the threat of violence sometimes turning into an ugly reality. Traffic wardens in Camden and other boroughs have required hospital treatment after beatings, and there has even been a brief abduction.

There were signs that the first week of the current action had started to bite with NSL making an improved, if still inadequate, offer. Originally, the company had proposed an additional 57 pence or 4.5% “rise”, a significant real pay cut. Union members have now rejected NSL’s offer of £2.30 over three years and are sticking to their demand of an increase to £15.90 an hour. In addition to picketing their own workplaces, on street traffic wardens and CCTV operators have joined striking RMT members at Euston station and forged links with Unite-organised strikers at homelessness charity St Mungo’s, who are also engaged in indefinite action over low pay.

The example of the Camden traffic wardens gives the lie to the notion that migrant workers can’t be organised and, in fact, often prove the most determined of trade union fighters!

Striking NSL workers and supporters defied the rain in Camden Town on Saturday 5 August, 2023. Photo credit: Amanda Bentham.

An End to Outsourcing?

Camden’s Labour-controlled council has taken some small steps towards bringing outsourced staff “in house” but has thus far resisted calls to do the same with parking enforcement. Hackney Council, hardly a bastion of the “Corbynite left” has just brought traffic wardens into direct employment, putting that borough’s CEOs on £15.68 an hour, plus occupational sick pay in line with the local government scheme.

Quite why a Labour authority continues to subsidise NSL/Marston’s profits remains something of a mystery, especially when Camden has lost literally millions in revenue over the past 11 years due to strike action on the contract. In the first half of last year Camden CEOs issued an average of just under £40,000 worth of penalty charge notices each day.

Two of the three picketed workplaces are in Sir Keir Starmer’s Holborn & St Pancras constituency, but somehow, I don’t expect to see him on a picket line despite Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves’ pledge of “the biggest wave of insourcing of public services for a generation”. Then again, that promise came two and a half years ago. In the meantime, Camden’s CEOs need and warrant the wider movement’s support.

NSL workers fighting for decent pay & dignity at work. Photo credit: Amanda Bentham.

  • George Binette is currently Trade Union Liaison Officer for Hackney North & Stoke Newington CLP and served as Camden UNISON branch secretary between 2009 and 2017.
  • You can send your messages of support to Weekly morning pickets will be held between between 7.00 and 10.00 AM at three sites (13-15 Guildford Street, WC1N 1DW; Regis Road Car Pound, NW5 3EW and 199 Belsize Road, NW6 4AA).
  • If you support Labour Outlook’s work amplifying the voices of left movements and struggles here and internationally, please consider becoming a supporter on Patreon.

Featured image: Striking NSL workers and supporters defied the rain in Camden Town on Saturday 5 August. Photo credit: Amanda Bentham.

One thought on “These CEOs are worth it – back the traffic wardens strike!

  1. The original parking officers were ex-police officers and that’s why they were strict apparently

Leave a Reply