Refuse collectors in Leeds will return to work on Wednesday with their union claiming victory after an 11-week strike that left rubbish mounting up in the city’s streets.

The 600 workers, including lorry drivers and litter pickers, voted to end the strike after Leeds City Council dropped plans to cut their pay by up to a third – £6,000 annually in some cases.

The council had to equalise pay for men and women and said it could not afford to level up salaries. However, it has now found most of the money to do so after a battle that saw public sympathy lie with the strikers.

Some view the conflict as an indicator of strife to come as councils face swingeing cuts of about 10 per cent to central government grants.

Leeds, run by a Liberal Democrat and Conservative coalition, had threatened to privatise the service unless productivity improvements were made. Richard Brett, council leader, said: “This is good news for us, our workers and the people of Leeds.

“We have been able to work up slightly amended proposals which completely eradicate pay losses for many workers.

“We will also continue to work with other members of refuse staff who stand to lose money to see what can be done to close any pay gap.

“Now, we need to get on with modernising the service and begin to achieve the productivity improvements and efficiencies we re-quire.”

Desiree Risebury, regional officer for the GMB union, said performance targets were now more manageable.

Her members had lost an average of £3,000 each during the dispute but public support had kept them going, she said.

The council wants to change shift patterns it believes are inefficient and cut down the average 29 sick days per worker annually.

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