Union calls off remaining bin strikes but says ‘tensions’ remain as it accuses council of ‘unhelpful and inaccurate’ communications

UNION members working in Thurrock Council’s waste collection service have agreed to cancel a number of strikes planned for May but say ‘tensions’ remain between their union and the council.

The Unite union says the threat of strikes could be revisited if the council reneges on its promises, now delivered in writing following recent negotiations.

It says the council has ‘now made a series of concessions in writing’ to its planned operational policies going forward, but the council has robustly disputed any inference that it has changed its position.

So much so that it took the step of issuing a statement at 6.44am today (Monday, 16 April) prior to the union announcement. In it the council said it was pleased the union had been able “to clarify its misunderstandings of the issues raised as concerns.” And it added: “The council has been consistent in its position throughout the negotiations.”

That has prompted a Unite spokesperson to say: “Recent council communications that suggest this has all been a misunderstanding and ignores the major concessions that have been made, are extremely unhelpful, inaccurate and further erode workplace harmony.”

The strike action, brought about because of workers’ concerns over what it calls ‘big brother style spy cameras, the loss of overtime payments, other changes to working practices and the poor management of the council’s ‘sweeper’ collection system,  had been due to start last week. But after sitting down at the negotiating table with the council, Unite said it had cancelled the first series of one and two day strikes planned throughout April.

Today it said that following the concessions by the council, Unite’s members have agreed to call off their remaining planned strikes.

The 72 hour strike beginning at 0:01 hours on Tuesday, 1 May and the 24 hour strikes due to begin on 16, 23 and 30 May have now been formally called off.

Unite regional officer Michelle Cook said: “Having received the council’s written concessions, Unite members have agreed to call off the remaining strike dates.

“However Thurrock Council must understand that there are major tensions remaining in its refuse service and if it reneges on its agreement in any way we will re-ballot for strike action.

“Recent council communications that suggest this has all been a misunderstanding and ignores the major concessions that have been made, are extremely unhelpful, inaccurate and further erode workplace harmony.

“To ensure that there is no further threat of bin strikes it is imperative that the council’s written agreement is abided by and that every effort is made to restore confidence among the workforce.”

The union then listed the concessions made by the council, saying it has confirmed:

  • Pictures from the new ‘big brother’ style cameras with live streaming to be fitted on Thurrock’s refuse vehicles can’t be viewed by managers at their desks and phones and will only be normally viewed by the council’s data protection officer. Any requests to view the footage will have to be in writing and that information will be shared with Unite
  • There will be no cuts to the rounds
  • The council has accepted that there are major problems with the service and it will create a working group which will include Unite members to balance the rounds to deliver a better service
  • Problems surrounding payments for Saturday working have been resolved
  • The council will take action to resolve issues of union discrimination and the lack of facility time.

The council’s full statement, issued in the early hours of today is: “Strike action planned by Unite Union waste collection staff has been called off.

“The council is pleased that the meetings it has held with Unite over the past months has enabled the union to clarify its misunderstandings of the issues raised as concerns.

“.The council has been consistent in its position throughout the negotiations and we are pleased that residents will no longer face any disruptions to a service as important as waste collection.”

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