UPDATED: Christmas bin strike fears for Doncaster

Refuse workers collecting bins in Doncaster
Refuse workers collecting bins in Doncaster

Doncaster could face a Christmas bins strike after talks with bosses broke down, unions have warned.

The union Unite has confirmed it will ballot borough bin crews for strike action, which it warns could affect bin collections later this year and over the Christmas period, in a dispute over proposed job cuts.

It says Suez, the private contractor which operates the bins contract on behalf of Doncaster Council, wants to cut the number of workers on the contract making 106 redundancies out of a total workforce of 258 workers.

The job cuts will come into effect before the company’s new refuse contract agreed by Doncaster council, comes into effect 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 say they entered the Acas talks with a red line that the union would not agree to any compulsory redundancies of the permanent refuse staff, and add that Suez has refused to meet this condition. The proposed job losses currently include 50 permanent workers being made compulsorily redundant.

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.”

A spokesman for Suez said: "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. During this consultation, residents overwhelmingly supported a new, simpler, system which will mean that there will be some changes to the way the service operates. This includes widespread support for 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.

“SUEZ is pleased to have been awarded the contract and continue to serve Doncaster residents, however 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.

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

Doncaster Council's assistant director of environment, Gill Gillies, said: "We understand that Suez is consulting with its staff on the terms of the new waste and recycling contract, and talks are still underway with ACAS assistance. We urge all parties to keep negotiating in order to make sure that Doncaster residents aren’t negatively impacted by this dispute.”

Residents have shared their views with Free Press.

Dean Buckley, of Conisbrough, said: "Get The bosses out doing people's bins over the Christmas about time they did something for the community give the hard working workers a break for Christmas."

Steve Limb, of Doncaster, added: "Be as bad as last Christmas when they emptied the green bins after Christmas and not the black."

Ken Taylor said: "They have every right to fight for there jobs I certainly back them."

Martin Clark said: "Replace the contractor if they can't handle their staff."