Bin collection staff to strike in dispute over pay and working conditions

Bin collection staff in the Derbyshire Dales are going on strike after negotiations over pay and working conditions broke down.

Thursday, 14th October 2021, 3:26 pm
Updated Friday, 15th October 2021, 7:19 am
GMB officials previously warned that strike action could cause rubbish to “build up in the streets”.

Derbyshire Dales bin collection staff represented by the trade union GMB will be on strike Friday (October 15) and Monday (October 18).

GMB officials previously warned that strike action could cause rubbish to “build up in the streets”.

More than half of the bin collection staff employed by Serco in the Dales are represented by GMB, says the district council, which now warns pickups on Friday and Monday will be “severely impacted”.

The authority says there will be just six available drivers out of 22 to operate bin collections for thousands of households across the district on the strike days, due to a perfect storm of issues.

This includes the workers on strike, sickness absence and a shortfall in staff caused by HGV driver shortages.

In July, Serco said it required 29 staff to operate services in the Dales but said at the time it only had 16. It said it had struggled to retain and recruit staff due to widespread competition for labour.

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The district council has now said: “If the strikes happen it means available crews will focus on household waste collections only, with no available resource to tackle any scheduled recycling or garden waste collections.

“We are naturally disappointed that Derbyshire Dales residents should have to suffer further disruptions and urge the GMB Union and Serco to resolve their dispute quickly.”

Mark Mansfield, contract manager for Serco, said, “It is always our intention to work in partnership with our trade unions partners we and would urge the GMB to suspend the strike action planned for tomorrow, Friday 15 October and Monday 18 October, whilst conciliary discussions with ACAS are ongoing.

“We are working hard to minimise disruption and if the strike goes ahead on these days, we will be prioritising household waste collections.

“We would like to offer our sincere apologies to all residents impacted by this action.”

GMB have been approached for comment but have not yet responded.

The HGV driver shortage itself has been caused by a combination of issues including a labour shortfall linked to Brexit with European labour returning home; low salaries and poor conditions; and lockdown periods hit driver training courses.

In July, the district council, which pays Serco £3.1 million pounds per year to collect bins in the district, agreed to give the private firm between £28,856 and £150,848 for a pay hike for staff.Serco agreed to pay the other half of the money required, but had not been willing to foot the whole bill.

This was to boost the hourly rate from £10.82 an hour to between £12 per hour and £17 an hour.

The pay offer presented to staff by Serco and the level which staff had asked for in the current dispute has not been disclosed.

On top of the pay hike monies, council taxpayers have also paid Serco an extra £350,000 in the past year despite hundreds of thousands of missed collections.

Serco, which has made a profit of £120 million after landing several major contracts during the pandemic, has said its bin collection agreement in the Dales is “not profitable” and that it has already “absorbed costs” of £130,000.

The strike action represents the climax of what has been several months’ worth of turbulence related to bin collections in the Dales.

Mick Coppin, GMB regional organiser, announcing potential strike action three weeks ago, 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.”

District council officials said earlier this week that they are continuing to track Serco’s management of the bin collection contract and that the firm was trying to recruit and retain staff.

A council spokesperson said: “Although Serco are advertising for new drivers, offering an enhanced annual salary package including bonuses and other benefits, they are also sadly still losing drivers in a very competitive market.

“The good news is that career development opportunities are being offered to develop drivers from within the team here in the Dales – currently four loaders are enrolled on Serco’s driver training and development programme and will be offered driving roles as soon as they are qualified. But this takes time – and we thank you for your patience and understanding.

“We do however expect Serco to deliver on the agreed contract here in the Derbyshire Dales and we monitor their performance daily.”