Bin collection staff in parts of Derbyshire may go on strike over pay dispute

Bin collection staff in parts of Derbyshire may go on strike over pay disputes, with union representatives warning rubbish could “build up in the streets”.

Friday, 24th September 2021, 8:07 am
Updated Friday, 24th September 2021, 9:34 am

The strike notices and industrial action – which includes potential slow-downs – represent the climax of what has been several months’ worth of turbulence related to bin collections in the Derbyshire Dales and Amber Valley areas.

Bin collections across the country, including several parts of Derbyshire, have been disrupted for months due to a wide variety of reasons.

Bin collections may be hit by strike action

This has seen thousands of bin collections missed, with rubbish piling up in some areas. Councils in the Dales and Amber Valley have both suspended garden waste collection – both paid subscription services – and have put stops on collecting excess recycling (which does not fit in the main bins).

Services have been hit by staff absence due to Covid, lockdown periods have hit the number of drivers able to get their training, Brexit has hit the supply of European labour and low salaries have seen drivers and collection staff leaving the profession.

The combination of these issues has been keenly felt in the Derbyshire Dales, with services outsourced to private firm Serco, and in Amber Valley, which runs its bin collections through a joint company – Amber Valley Norse – in partnership with Norse, a subsidiary of Norfolk County Council.

In the Dales, Serco said it only has half the staff it needs and has struggled to fill positions, and has claimed its contract with the district council is not profitable.

Union representatives warning rubbish could “build up in the streets” if the strike action goes ahead

It asked for the council to pay half of a salary hike for collection staff and drivers in a bid to retain employees and attract more recruits.

Serco bin collection staff in the Dales are paid £10.82 an hour, with the firm’s profits soaring to £120 million due to Covid contracts, six times the entire annual spending budget of Derbyshire Dales District Council.

A casting vote from the council’s Conservative chair saw money approved to pay for a hike to between £12 and £17 an hour.

The Local Democracy Reporting Service has not been informed of what the current pay has been increased to or the offer on the table for employees.

The council also agreed to suspend garden waste for a month, until late August. It said in late August that excess recycling would not be collected for three months, with no restart date for separate food waste collections.

It called the situation an “emergency” and had failed in its attempts to get the Army and fire service in to help carry out collections.

The union GMB has now said that staff in the Dales have voted “overwhelmingly” to support industrial action.

A spokesperson said: “The result has been announced after the failure of company management to present a fair pay offer to workers, despite these key workers maintaining vital services for local people throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Despite sincere and repeated attempts to reach an agreement with the company managers, this decision has been forced on hard-working refuse workers across the area.

“Local people and residents of the Derbyshire Dales will no doubt be disappointed and shocked by the actions of Serco for once again failing to avoid disruption by supporting its own employees.”

Mick Coppin, GMB regional organiser, said: “This disruption could lead to waste and household rubbish building up in Derbyshire streets.

“The company needs to be serious about this risk and consider the needs of local communities.

“Our members employed by Serco are key workers and want nothing more than to serve their communities and keep Derbyshire clean.

“Our members have now sent a clear message in favour of industrial action over this dispute, which could result in strike action in coming weeks.

“We’ll be with them 100 per cent and are calling on the company to get back around the table with a proper pay offer.”

A Derbyshire Dales District Council spokesperson said: “Derbyshire Dales residents have suffered enough disruption to waste collection services in recent times and we urge the GMB and Serco to reach agreement as a matter of urgency without any necessity for the action that is being threatened.”

Andrew Smith, Serco operations manager, said: “We are proud of our workforce and in particular our frontline workers who have delivered essential services to the residents of Derbyshire Dales throughout the pandemic and would like to thank them for all of their support.

“It is always our intention to work in partnership with our trade unions and have been in negotiations with the GMB since April.

“In that time we have made a number of formal offers, the current of which is in line with what was being requested by the union at the start of these negotiations and are disappointed by this decision to take strike action, at an already challenging time for our frontline teams and residents alike.

“We would urge the GMB to reconsider and resume discussions as a matter of urgency. ‘

“In the meantime, we will do all we can to minimise disruption caused by this strike action and offer our apologies to those residents whose collections may be affected during this period.”

In Amber Valley, garden waste collections have been suspended for two months but are set to restart on Monday, September 27, but extra waste outside of bins will not be accepted.

It said the disruptions had been caused by staffing shortages, as well as the closure of the council’s waste transfer station in Somercotes.

At a meeting this week, borough Councillor Trevor Ainsworth, cabinet member for the environment, formally apologised for the delays and “inconvenience” caused to residents.

He said a large number of staff were off work long-term, for health issues other than Covid. Cllr Ainsworth said the Somercotes transfer station will reopen on Monday.

Cllr Ainsworth said Amber Valley Norse had lost three drivers to rivals in what he described as a competitive market for HGV drivers, but had recruited three replacements to fill the gaps.

He said the council and Norse were looking at ways to retain staff and could not promise there would not be any further disruption to collections.

In relation to industrial action in Amber Valley, a GMB spokesperson said: “Multiple factors have led to this result, which comes after weeks of attempts by employee representatives to find a resolution to issues raised by refuse workers.

“Management’s failure to offer a fair pay deal, after a year of working above and beyond on the part of these key workers, has been the final straw.”

Mr Coppin said: “As we all know industrial action by refuse workers can have a huge impact on household waste collection and lead to rubbish collections delayed and waste piling up, that’s why this is always a last resort.

“The result of this ballot goes some way to showing the depth of feeling by a large group of Derbyshire’s key workers – people who kept our communities safe and clean throughout the pandemic.

“Refuse workers are key workers delivering vital services that we all rely on. The public knows this and the Norse workers know this, so why are company management refusing to listen?

“Management at the company needs to seriously consider what is at stake here and get around the table with an offer of fair pay for our members.”

A spokesperson for Amber Valley Norse said: “As part of our annual pay review negotiations, we made an initial pay increase offer to our waste collection service staff.

“This was rejected by union representatives, and subsequently, an increased counter offer was made by Amber Valley Norse.

“We are still awaiting the official rejection of this counter offer – and we have not, to date, had a suggested acceptable pay increase from the union representatives, GMB.

“In the meantime, we will continue to do all that we can to negotiate a reasonable and achievable pay increase for our staff, that reflects the hard work they do and our appreciation of their efforts. This must, as expected, be set against increased pressures on all council budgets, compounded by the effects of Covid-19.

“We remain hopeful that we can still achieve an agreement in the coming days.”

Amber Valley Norse says a strike could affect 10,000 households.