South Tyneside bins may go uncollected for eight weeks as workers strike over alleged bullying

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Bins in South Tyneside may not be collected for eight weeks as refuse collectors strike over they describe as intolerable working conditions.

Members of the GMB Union will not work between Tuesday 9 to Friday 12 January in what is the third round of strike action since November. They will be joined by members of Unite between Tuesday 23 to Friday 26 January and South Tyneside Council has warned that no bins will be collected during this period.

Union members say the strikes are the accumulation of years of intolerable working conditions and also allege workplace bullying and mismanagement.

The council say they do not recognise the claims made by the union and has committed to ending the dispute through mediation and conciliation.

"It's taken a lot of years and a lot of courage for the members to finally say they've had enough," Shaun Collins a workplace representative told ITV Tyne Tees. "The amount of disciplinaries we were actually getting through is absolutely disgusting. The lads basically turned around one day and said enough's enough."

Some bins may not be collected for eight weeks. Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

The union says new housing has increased the workload of refuse collectors, without extra staff or bin lorries to help meaning it is now often impossible to complete the rounds, lorry safety checks and maintenance within the hours workers are paid for.

Additionally, members allege that they have been served disciplinary notices for helping elderly people while completing their rounds.

"Not one of the members standing behind me wants to be on strike," Mark Wilson from the GMB Union told ITV Tyne Tees. "We've had members who were threatened because they pulled out bins for elderly people who were infirm. 

"When they wrote a letter of thank you that triggered them to be pulled in to say you shouldn't have done that.  We've had members who were told to leave somebody with Alzheimers and get back to work. 

"We've had a number of members dismissed for trivial matters as far as we're concerned.  The members have had enough and they just want that to stop."

The GMB and Unite unions first raised a grievance in June and South Tyneside Council launched an independent investigation.  Strike action was launched at the end of November when the findings still had not been published.

The GMB Union alleges that there has been workplace bullying and mismanagement. Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

South Tyneside Council has said they are disappointed strike action was launched before the findings of the investigation were published but are committed to finding a way to end the dispute.

A council spokesperson said: “We understand that any disruption to waste and recycling services is difficult for both residents and businesses. We are working hard to mitigate the impact of the strikes as much as we can and apologise for the inconvenience caused.

“We would like to clarify again that the industrial action does not relate to disciplinary action. As is stated in the GMB ballot, union members ‘wish to affect a change in operational management’.

“The claims made by the GMB are not ones that we recognise as a council. GMB suggest 80% of the workforce have received a formal warning recently. In 2023 the current figure is that four members from a team of 63 have received a formal warning amounting to 6.3%.

“The council has undertaken a full and thorough investigation into the matters raised by waste operatives. The important HR process that is looking into the workforce’s concerns is drawing to conclusion.

"It is disappointing that industrial action by unions has continued ahead of this process being concluded or ACAS negotiations taking place.

“However, we are committed to ending this dispute through ongoing dialogue, mediation and conciliation. The lines of communication have always remained open in the spirit of constructive and positive industrial relations in a bid to resolve matters.

“We apologise to the people of South Tyneside for the ongoing disruption and appreciate it has been both frustrating and inconvenient."

South Tyneside Council has added more slots at Middlefields Recycling Village. Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

The timing of the strikes means that some bins in the borough may not be collected for eight weeks, including the busy Christmas period. 

The council has sought to make changes to scheduled collection times in a bid to reduce residents wait times while they have increased the opening hours and number of slots available at the Middlefields Recycling Village.

The findings of the council's independent investigation are expected within the coming days and any future strike action could hinge on the report.

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