Doncaster refuse workers to vote on Christmas strike action

Refuse workers in Doncaster belonging to the union Unite will be balloted for strike action in the coming days in a dispute over job cuts, with strike action slated to take place over the Christmas period.

The dispute arose after SUEZ, the waste management company that manages Doncaster Council’s waste management, announced that it would be making 106 of its 258 refuse workers redundant.

Doncaster refuse workers to vote on Christmas strike action
The job cuts will come into effect before the company’s new refuse contract agreed with Doncaster Council begins in March 2018.

Strikes on the refuse contract were called off in August after SUEZ made an improved pay offer to the workforce and agreed to talks at the conciliation service Acas over the proposed redundancies.

Unite entered the Acas talks with a red line that the union would not agree to any compulsory redundancies of the permanent refuse staff. The two sides failed to reach an agreement over the position, with the proposed job losses currently including 50 permanent workers being made compulsorily redundant.

Unite maintains that if the proposed number of job cuts are made, it does not see a way in which Doncaster’s streets can be properly kept clean and tidy.

Commenting on the announcement, Unite regional officer Shane Sweeting, said: “Unite entered negotiations with the clear intention of resolving this dispute but SUEZ has been unable or unwilling to promise there will be no compulsory redundancies.

“Therefore Unite has no option we have to defend our members jobs and that is why we are balloting our members for strike action.

“While strike action will inevitably cause large-scale disruption to the refuse collection service in Doncaster, I hope that the public understands that we are taking this action as a last resort and Unite is defending the long-term integrity of the service.

“If SUEZ and Doncaster council want to avoid this dispute from taking place then they must remove the threat of compulsory redundancies.”

SUEZ plans for new service provision ongoing

In response to Unite's decision to ballot workers on strike action, a spokesperson for SUEZ stated: “At the end of June 2017 SUEZ recycling and recovery UK was awarded a new contract to provide recycling and refuse collection services to Doncaster Council, following a lengthy procurement process.

“Prior to awarding the contract, Doncaster Council consulted widely to determine what residents wanted from their waste and recycling services. R residents overwhelmingly supported a new, simpler, system, which will mean that there will be some changes to the way the service operates. This includes a new co-mingled system of recycling, which will see a new blue bin introduced for all recycling materials, except for glass, which will remain in the green box.

“Due to the significant changes to the way recycling and waste is collected from residents’ properties under the new contract, there will unfortunately be a need for fewer staff than the previous source-segregated collections.

"Therefore, as of mid-July this year, members of staff employed on the current contract received notice of the start of a ninety-day consultation period, which could result in redundancies next year. This process is due to conclude at the end of October, but the primary purpose of the consultation is to determine how the needs and commercial realities of the new contract can be balanced against the best interests of existing staff.

“Talks between SUEZ and Unite, with Acas present, have been ongoing for the past month and we remain committed to finding the best solution for all involved. We are therefore extremely disappointed that Unite is balloting members for strike action while these talks are ongoing and cannot understand why they would take this course of action prior to the end of the consultation, as no decisions have been made. It is also concerning that, despite being three months away, Unite proposes to effectively delay any future strike action until the Christmas period, when it will cause the most disruption to residents – as they acknowledge in their own press release.

“This is becoming a perennial occurrence and Unite should not continue to hold the residents of Doncaster to ransom like this.”

The decision to serve redundancy notices to 106 refuse workers is noticeably similar to Birmingham City Council’s decision to issue redundancy notices to 113 refuse workers belonging to Unite, a decision that was deemed ‘unlawful’ by a judge at a High Court hearing last week, and which saw the protracted industrial dispute suspended Unite until a full hearing.

Residents of Doncaster will be hoping that the dispute between SUEZ and Unite does not result in a drawn-out dispute similar to that in Birmingham, which saw rubbish piling up in the streets for weeks.

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