Waste collectors protest over rubbish contracts

Workers employed by council contractor Urbaser say they are treated like “second-class citizens”
By Local Democracy Reporter Josh Mellor

Waste collection staff protesting outside the town hall last week (LDRS)
Waste collection staff protesting outside the town hall last week (LDRS)

Borough bin collectors claim a contractor hired by the council for £13million a year is treating its newer hires like “second class citizens”.

Waste staff employed by Waltham Forest Council contractor Urbaser protested outside the town hall on 11th January, urging councillors to back their fight for fair treatment. 

Urbaser was awarded an eight-year contract to manage the borough’s waste and recycling collection in 2019, taking over from previous provider Kier.

However, unhappy staff – who asked to remain anonymous to protect their jobs – said workers recruited after they took over were hired on contracts with lower wages and no paid sick leave.

Urbaser meanwhile insists these problems relate to contracts it “inherited” from Kier and says it is meeting with the union this month to discuss a resolution.

Unite union representative Tommy Anderson said there was a “six-tier system” of different staff contracts, which the union hopes to see equalised.

He said: “We all had to go and risk our lives clearing rubbish during the pandemic and we’re all called heroes and everything else.

“Let’s respect these heroes with decent pay and decent contracts, that’s the way you treat workers – not abominably.”

One worker, who asked to remain anonymous, said: “We’re fed up of being treated like second class citizens.

“We want better working condition and equal opportunities because half the staff don’t get what the others get.”

In 2019, deputy leader Clyde Loakes said the council was confident Urbaser’s “years of experience and reputation for delivering results” would help them “maintain clean, safe and green neighbourhoods”. 

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Since taking over, Urbaser has introduced a new collection fleet of 85 low-emission vehicles and begun collecting new items such as small electrical goods, textiles and batteries, while also agreeing not to use chemical weedkillers in the borough’s parks.

Responding to the complaints of Urbaser staff, Cllr Loakes said: “The waste contract with Urbaser safeguards the regular, reliable collections that Waltham Forest residents expect while at the same time guaranteeing [full-time] staff London Living Wage and sick pay.

“Since the contract began the usage of agency staff has reduced from around 50 per cent to the current level of 15 per cent. We have encouraged Urbaser to offer permanent, stable jobs for these essential workers, whose work is hugely valued by everyone in Waltham Forest.

“We want to work constructively with all parties involved. We will continue to talk with Urbaser and the unions to discuss outstanding issues and find a solution.”

Senior contract manager at Urbaser, Kevin Hanson, added that the company is “committed to ensuring that our staff receive the best possible employment terms, including competitive and fair salary levels”.

He said: “We have regular pay reviews for all employees with union representatives and the next one is due in April this year.

“In October last year a petition was raised by the Unite and GMB unions… Several issues were presented and we took immediate action to address the vast majority of the points raised.

“To resolve outstanding actions from the petition, we will arrange to meet with Union officials during January. Our door is open and we are keen to discuss the remaining issues to achieve a suitable solution for all concerned.”

As reported in the East London Guardian, the contract with Kier was not without its issues, with residents complaining about the quality of its service and incidents of staff mixing trash and recycling.

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