Strike and overtime ban in bin dispute

Bin collection staff are in dispute with Wigan Council

Bin collectors will down tools for a day and refuse to work overtime in a dispute with the council over shift and overtime changes.

Unison announced there will be a strike on August 31 followed by a six-day overtime ban over working conditions being altered as part of the town hall’s move to three-weekly bin collections.

The council is trying to provide a waste service collection on the cheap. Their plans are bad for residents and refuse collection staff

Kevin Lucas

The dispute concerns the planned introduction of irregular working hours which could see staff required to extend their shift to 11 hours from 6.30am to 5.30pm without notice.

The union also claims the council plans to introduce four additional working days a year for training and compulsory overtime at Christmas.

Unison says its staff have already accepted a range of proposals designed to slash costs by £2m a year, including job losses and a four-day week, and the latest changes will create unacceptable problems for employees.

Tracy Roberts, Unison Wigan branch secretary, said: “The council wants to impose a 5.30pm finish time that will mean that bin wagons will be on the streets of the borough during the evening rush hour.

“The late finish will create problems for workers with caring responsibilities and some will have to pay for additional childcare provision at significant cost just in case they are asked to stay late.

“Christmas shifts have always been covered by volunteers and the council’s plan to force staff to work over the festive period regardless of their circumstances is cruel and unnecessary. Wigan Council is playing havoc with the family lives of low-paid workers.

“Refuse collectors do a job that is physically very demanding. They are working from early in the morning in all weathers and they can walk as far as 15 miles and empty 2,000 bins in a shift.

“Extending the working day to 11 hours will be exhausting.

“We’ve delivered the savings. We’ve accepted the smaller workforce and the four-day week. All we want is a set start and finish time and no introduction of compulsory overtime.”

A refuse loader said the new shifts would cause difficulties as he needed to be home by 4.30pm to look after the children once his partner went to work.

Unison stressed the union remains available for talks.

Kevin Lucas, Unison’s regional manager, said: “The council is trying to provide a waste collection service on the cheap. Their plans are bad for residents and for refuse collection staff.

“The council needs to think again. It’s not too late for the council to avert a disruptive strike. They need to meet with us urgently and agree a way forward.”

The union says staff who have not accepted the new arrangements have been told they will be dismissed on September 24 and invited to return under the new contracts.

Wigan Council said it still hoped to avoid a strike and also criticised Unison.

Karl Battersby, director for economy and environment, said: “We have had to redesign the waste service so it is efficient and effective and we’ve worked closely with staff throughout this process and taken on board their suggestions. The changes include a four-day working week and flexible working with no impact on their pay.

“We amended our proposals and there have been no compulsory redundancies, we’ve also given assurances to staff to minimise the impact the new working arrangements may have on those who have caring responsibilities. The new working arrangements will mean that the bin crews will now work a four day week and will be on the streets earlier to miss the morning rush hour.

“Staff will work 37 hours over four days however all we are asking is for further staff flexibility to help reduce the potential for missed bins which can only be good for our residents.

“We are pleased that 80 per cent of our staff have accepted these new working arrangements. Unfortunately there are a small number of staff who, despite the concessions we have made, have chosen not to accept our offer.

“This is in opposition to the new working arrangements and not the new three weekly collections.

“Out of a workforce of 133 staff, only 33 Unison members have voted for industrial action. GMB undertook a separate ballot with their members and they did not vote in favour of industrial action.

“We have invited Unison to offer alternative suggestions which will ensure an effective service whilst achieving the required savings of £2m per year.

“We are still hopeful we can reach an amicable conclusion with the union ahead of the need for any industrial action. We will update residents as soon as we have more information.”

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