Update as bin strike enters its third week

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Industrial action by GMB members responsible for collecting household waste and recycling in the Wealden district started on 25th April.

The Union have already notified Biffa of their intention to extend the strike action up to the 28th May. Yesterday the GMB said, should Biffa not start meaningful negotiations, they will extend the dispute to the 11th June.

Wealden District Council are publishing daily updates on their website to inform residents which waste and street cleansing services are likely to be operated. They recommend households put their wheelie bins out on the scheduled collection day and leave them out for three days. Generally about half of the rubbish bins are emptied, but recycling and garden waste bins are not being emptied.

Speaking at the Overview and Scrutiny Committee yesterday the Portfolio Holder for Waste Management updated Councillors on negotiations ongoing between the Council’s waste contractor Biffa and Unions.

Cllr Roy Galley said:

The strike situation is very disappointing and the situation has got worse over the last week or two. It is a fluid and changing situation so I don’t think we can have much public debate about that today.

I think it is particularly disappointing that we, or Biffa rather with our support, made a very generous offer to the staff, which the initial reaction seemed to be the GMB Union were very pleased about. But that has not been accepted and the strike situation continues.

Although it is difficult and we have had something like 14,000 missed bins a day, which is horrendous, I do want to pay tribute to Biffa and to our own officers for working so hard to make it work as well as it has. They are on top of the situation and I hope very much that we will be able to resolve this.

Cllr Roy Galley

Cllr Galley explained the current offer harmonises pay but disparities remain in pension arrangements. There is a joint waste contract between Wealden, Rother and Hastings Councils and Biffa. Giving further detail on negotiations Averil Price, the Director of Community & Customer Services, said what complicates matters at the two Wealden depots [Amberstone in Hailsham and Bellbrook in Uckfield] is that Unison (not the GMB) is the recognised union. Unison had accepted the pay offer before the GMB balloted its members. Averil Price said the revised offer from Biffa was better than the deal accepted by the GMB, when they stopped their industrial action in neighbouring authorities of Rother and Hastings.

The GMB are demanding that Wealden District Council clarify the statements on their website which suggest that negotiations are currently taking place to resolve the dispute. The Union say Biffa are not making themselves available for talks.

Gary Palmer, GMB Regional Organiser said:

I’m informed that we’re talking to Biffa when we aren’t, and without meaningful talks, this dispute is not going to get ended.

Local management have told staff that their East Sussex Joint Waste Partnership contract is one the most profitable that they operate, only to then inform those same staff when they seek a more substantive pay uplift that a further increase is unaffordable.

This is not only disrespectful, it is wholly symptomatic of the smoke-and-mirrors approach that big businesses like Biffa employ to exploit low paid workforces.

So, for clarity, GMB are ready to sit and negotiate as we always have been, but it can’t just be a one-way discussion and telling us before we’ve even sat down that there is no more money quite simply will not see their staff back at work.

Perhaps Wealden Council should consider sitting in on these meetings themselves or asking ACAS to chair pay discussions.

It’s a serious offer and it might just be the catalyst to allowing meaningful negotiations and a settlement along with press updates that everyone can find informative and accurate.

Gary Palmer, GMB Union

During the Overview & Scrutiny Committee meeting it was also heard that Wealden District Council is currently withholding payments to Biffa as a result of the strike.

In light of this, Crowborough Councillor Kay Moss (Ind) asked whether the Council would be looking to compensate residents who pay for the garden bin collection service. Cllr Galley said it would be “a matter for my successor”.

Assisted Collections

Cllr Galley clarified that those residents who qualify for assisted collections, and are unable to put their bins outside their property because of infirmity or disability, are being prioritised during the dispute as much as possible.

New Council Leader

At the Annual Meeting of Wealden District Council tomorrow (18th May) a new Council Leader will be elected and the Cabinet reshuffled. Incoming Council Leader Ann Newton will retain the portfolio for Planning & Development. A report shows the new Cabinet which will include three Crowborough Councillors: Cllr Philip Lunn (Commercial, Economic Development & Leisure) , Cllr Richard Hallett (Governance, Customer Service and HR) and Cllr Neil Waller (Finance & Benefits).

Click to watch the full discussion at Overview and Scrutiny Committee on 16th May about the bin strike in Wealden (start 01:07:17).

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