War of words breaks out as council slams union over claims authority has made concessions in bins battle

THURROCK Council has hit back at claims by the Unite union that it has conceded ground in the battle over working conditions for the council’s waste collection teams.

On a day of harsh words between the organisation, Unite said the council was guilty of ‘unhelpful and inaccurate’ communications.

Almost immediately the council has responded with its own criticism of the union’s public statements and described the union’s position as “appalling.”

Responding to a Thurrock Independent website story detailing the union’s comments, a spokesperson for Thurrock Council said: ““The council is extremely disappointed that Unite feel that it is acceptable to put out inaccurate information about the discussions.

“We will continue to be open and transparent with residents about the facts, and find it appalling that in conceding they did not have reasonable grounds to strike the union has chosen to take this bullish tone.

“Our position has not changed since union members in our waste collection service were balloted to strike. There have been no concessions made; we have simply addressed union representatives’ misunderstandings and offered assurances where appropriate without ever changing our position.”

The council has responded to a number of claims made by the union:-

UNITE: 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

TBC: The position on the use of the cameras has not changed at any point in the dispute. The council has repeatedly clarified the position and made clear all the way through that there were never any plans for managers to have access to the live feeds on computers or mobile devices.

Cameras have been on our waste fleet for a number of years and the only difference between the cameras currently on the lorries and those which we are installing is that the new ones can now stream live video – which means that an immediate response can be made when incidents or issues are reported, rather than video footage having to be downloaded and reviewed at a later time. Since cameras were introduced in 2010, strict policies on how footage can be accessed have been in place which will continue to be followed.

UNITE: There will be no cuts to the rounds

TBC: There has never been any intention to cut rounds. £8m has been invested in new vehicles and rather than cutting rounds two new rounds have recently been added. The suggestion that rounds were going to be cut were not part of any negotiations, and was not something union members were balloted to strike over

UNITE: 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

TBC: A working group, on which union members will be represented, is not linked to delivering a ‘better service’ but to provide a platform for discussion on further improvements to the waste service.

The council has not accepted there are major issues with the services as this is simply not true.  The collection rate is currently 98.2%.

An increase in the number of properties and additional trade waste has been covered by two additional collection rounds, which means that waste collection staff are not required to work any extra hours and additional work is only given to crews which have time to collect waste within their normal hours.

Clearer weekend working systems have been created which mean crews will only be offered weekend overtime work when there is a whole day’s work to be done. Previously, crews were working a few hours on weekends and getting a full day’s overtime pay – which was clearly very unfair to colleagues in other services and council tax payers.

UNITE: The council will take action to resolve issues of union discrimination and the lack of facility time.

TBC: Thurrock Council regularly meets with trade unions representatives’ as part of its day-to-day business and no concerns had been raised about this before Thurrock Council were notified of the intention to ballot 5 February 2018. Since these issues were raised Thurrock Council has held additional meetings with Unite as well as attending every meeting called by union representatives and maintained an open dialogue throughout. The same cannot be said of the Unite Union representatives who have failed to attend a number of meetings where the matters subject to ballot have previously been consulted or discussed.”