THURROCK Council waste collectors are being balloted by their union as it threatens industrial action against the authority over working conditions, possible cuts to pay and cameras in a fleet of new vehicles reports the Thurrock Independent.
The Unite union also says its members are being treated with contempt by the council, which it describes as “patronising, degrading and inflexible” while chief executive Lyn Carpenter has been branded a bully and a liar.
The union wants workers to go on strike to make their point.
The union says Ms Carpenter is refusing to negotiate directly with officials, instead dealing directly with the staff. The chief executive has twice written to bin wagon crew members with recorded delivery letters sent to their homes.
At the heart of the dispute are new lorries ordered by the council to replace the existing fleet. The union says that they come equipped with ‘spy-in-the-cab’ cameras that will allow management to watch staff as they work via tablets and mobile phones, with workers unaware of when and where they might be ‘spied’ on.
They claim members of the management team at Thurrock have already “abused” the existing monitoring system on vehicles currently in use and that things will get worse unless they take action.
“No one else at Thurrock Council will be monitored while they are working, apart from waste operatives” says Unite regional officer Michelle Cook.
The dispute also covers concerns about cuts in pay as the council management plans changes to weekend and bank holiday working, with Ms Carpenter telling operatives: “In the past I appreciate you may have been paid a full day’s overtime even if you had not worked a full day, unfortunately this couldn’t continue. Overtime payments for all staff need to be fair.”
Ms Cook countered that by saying to her members: “This is another attack on your money by the current manager. No one else in the council works the way you do, no one else works as hard as you do in all weathers, and you have seen other workers sitting in their vans when it rains, you deserve every penny you get, yet management at every opportunity is eroding your money.”
Changes to the way collection rounds are operated across Thurrock – a ‘sweeper’ system is in place meaning the crews are supposed to start at one side of the borough and work across to the other – are also enmeshed in the dispute.
The union says the new system is not working, is inefficient and has led to increased noise pollution, increased complaints by residents, it breaches waste collection legislation and has increased costs.
Ms Carpenter has written to workers saying how highly she values the waste collection service, that none of the allegations are true and that she is ‘hopeful of avoiding a dispute.’
A statement from Thurrock Council to the Thurrock Independent said: “The council has been notified that Unite, the trade union, are balloting their members in the waste and recycling service to determine if they will support strike action. An issue cited is the cameras on the new waste fleet.
“We have written to all our staff assuring them the cameras are not intrusive, given demonstrations of the camera system and have confirmed the operation and use is the same as the current cameras.
“The use of cameras on waste vehicles is industry standard and essential to protect our workforce and residents. Camera footage enables us to take action against dangerous drivers who put our loaders and drivers at risk. We continue to engage with both trade unions and staff on all work related matters.The council is clear on its facts and has been clear and truthful with its officers.”
However, that has cut little ice with Unite as Michelle Cook concludes, saying to her members: “Perhaps when we have a yes vote for strike action they may stop treating us with contempt. If Lyn Carpenter did genuinely believe the waste and recycling team is one of the most valued services in the council you have to ask why she hasn’t asked to meet us to discuss the issues for a resolution, instead she sends an intimidating letter in the hope you will believe the lies within it.”
Council portfolio holder for the environment, Cllr Aaron?Watkins, said: “I am sure residents will see this is nothing but a political stunt shortly before a local election.
“We all have respect for our hard-working staff, and the difficult job and often thankless work they do, but keeping them and residents safe while they work and equally ensuring that taxpayers money is spent wisely will always be of paramount importance to this administration. It is a shame the union is acting this way, perhaps if they had made the effort to engage with the council before, then it wouldn’t have come to this. Additionally, Unite also voted for the ‘sweeper system’ prior to implementation, and any talk of it being a failure is nothing further from the truth. Sadly, another attempt of political point scoring right before an election.
“Any reasonable person would be happy to have a safer work place. The cameras are there for that reason and are not spy cameras, they are safety cameras. Equally expecting the taxpayer to pay for a whole day of overtime when only a few hours have been worked is just too much. Overtime has been available for the staff to take up.
“We hope this situation can be resolved amicably, but meetings had been offered to Unite on multiple occasions who decided not to engage and default straight to a ballot. The offer of a meeting between parties continues to be open.”