THE union representing bin workers in South Gloucestershire says that “chaos will worsen” after a court ruled that agency workers cannot be used to break its strike.
Unite was among a group of unions that challenged a government decision to reverse a previous ban on using agency staff during strikes, and won their case at the High Court on July 13.
It means that from August 10, council waste contractor Suez will not be able to use any agency workers to do work usually carried out by the 150 workers who have been on strike since the end of June.
Suez has declined to say how many agency workers it has used during the strike, but confirmed it was reviewing their use.
Days before the ruling, council service director Mark King had told the cabinet Suez was “trying to get more agency staff in to support the service”.
Recycling, food waste, green bin and bulky waste collections have been suspended since June 26, as black bin rounds, Sort It centres and new ‘deposit points’ for waste are prioritised.
Union members rejected an 8% per cent pay offer from Suez for this year, calling it a “significant real terms pay cut”, as it is well below the rate of inflation.
Suez believes its offer is “fair and competitive” but says Unite has asked for a 15% increase this year, which would mean an overall rise of 22% over two years.
Council leader Claire Young and co-leader Ian Boulton wrote an open letter to Unite and Suez in early July calling on them to explain what they were doing to settle the dispute.
The councillors said residents were “justifiably angry that the service is not being delivered”, adding: “We have no legal or contractual power to force Suez or Unite to the table, but it is not fair or reasonable for the council or local residents to be held hostage to negotiations that are not yet happening.
“We are calling on both sides to be true to their word and sit down to resolve their dispute now.”
Unite has called the council’s letter a “pretend intervention to cover its back” while failing to use its influence over its contractor, but the authority insists its legal powers over Suez are limited under the contract.
Unite regional officer Ken Fish said he was hopeful talks could resume soon, saying: “We were struggling to get the employer to engage with us and have meaningful dialogue.
“But I have been contacted by Suez and they are trying to table proposed dates for us to reconvene some form of pay negotiation, which I’m hoping will be a positive progression from where we are now.”
Suez has again apologised to residents for disruption caused by the strikes.
A spokesperson said: “We are continuing discussions with Unite over the coming days and hope to progress negotiations with the aim of coming to a positive and fair solution.”
She added that following the High Court ruling, “we’re reviewing our use of agency staff and we will work with the council to keep residents informed of any updates to the service”.
‘Deposit points’ for waste as Tories warn of crisis
SOUTH Gloucestershire Council has set up six ‘deposit points’ for people to take food waste and recycling during the strike.
Open between 8am and 2pm every weekday, the six sites include Page Road short stay car park in Staple Hill, Cleve RFC car park at Cossham Street, Mangotsfield, and the Lyde Green Park and Ride in Willowherb Road and are open for waste not currently being collected from the kerbside.
A council spokesperson said: “Fortnightly black bin collections continue to be prioritised to ensure the disposal of waste such as personal hygiene items, medical waste, nappy sacks and pet waste.
“Please put your black bin out on your normal scheduled collection day. Please do not put any other containers out.”
The council’s Sort It centres in Mangotsfield, Yate and Thornbury have extra facilities to take more recycling and black bin waste, but long queues have been reported during the strike action.
And opposition Conservative councillors say two sites which have been opened for people to deposit cardboard, paper, glass, cans and plastic for recycling, in Warmley and Barrs Court, have been “left to overfill”.
Tory group leader Sam Bromiley posted pictures of dumped rubbish at the sites online, and deputy leader and Frenchay & Downend councillor Liz Brennan told a cabinet meeting: “As we’ve seen from pictures of rubbish piled high, the delay in getting the temporary bins installed, the small number of sites that have been made available and the delay in emptying them has created an environmental and public health crisis.”