Deputy leader suggests bin men protest might not ‘count’

A union representative said his “scandalous” remarks showed “contempt” for workers
By Local Democracy Reporter Josh Mellor

Workers demonstrating outside the town hall (LDRS)
Workers demonstrating outside the town hall (LDRS)

The council’s deputy leader has been criticised for suggesting a demonstration by local bin men outside the town hall might not “count” as a protest.

At least eighteen people wearing high visibility “Team Waltham Forest” uniforms were photographed calling for fairer pay outside the council’s cabinet meeting on 13th January. 

The group, who said they work for the council’s waste collection contractor Urbaser, criticised wage disparities between agency and full-time workers.

Presenting a review of the contract with Urbaser at a neighbourhoods scrutiny committee meeting last night, deputy leader Clyde Loakes said he believed “a few people turned up”.

He added: “Whether you would count it as a protest I’m not too sure, and I’m not sure how many of them who attended are actually Urbaser staff.

“I’m confident that Urbaser meets regularly to discuss issues with the unions and will work hard to work through those issues.”

Representatives of Unite the Union have called Cllr Loakes’s comments “scandalous” and questioned how the men could have obtained high-visibility orange uniforms bearing the logo “Team Waltham Forest”.

Branch secretary Kevin Parslow said: “Where do you think we got all the uniforms from? Did we steal them? 

“It shows their contempt for the workers, we had about 40 workers which is about half a shift.

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“I think it’s scandalous, he doesn’t have a clue about how refuse workers are feeling about pay and conditions.”

Kevin said waste collection drivers are currently paid £15 an hour, £2.50 more than previously, after complaining that Urbaser were hiring agency workers for a £19.20 hourly rate.

Willie Howard, a Unite the Union organiser who was also at the protest, said: “Some people don’t get company sick pay and some pay rates are lower than others – they have a huge pay disparity between workers.

“There’s huge discontent and people are expressing that. The fact that you had twenty five workers there by its very nature is a protest.

“They are the people with the ultimate political and financial responsibility and they want to deny the union supporters that. There was a protest, this wasn’t a psychedelic episode.”

Senior contract manager at Urbaser, Kevin Hanson, has said 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.”

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