I hear that yet again County Hall are having rather too much say on the contents of the local papers. This time it involves the current dispute between refuse collectors represented by Unison, and the council. The dispute has been ongoing resulting in a backlog of rubbish on the streets. Towards the end of April the Chief Executive issued a statement, published on the Council website which laid the blame squarely on the binmen, and the Union for refusing to put up with revised working conditions brought about, the council says, by the Single Status agreement.
Last week the Carmarthenshire branch of Unison wrote a letter for publication in the Carmarthen Journal outlining their side of the story. The Journal contacted the council press office for a comment and shortly afterwards a senior officer from the council contacted the paper and suggested that it would be inappropriate to publish Unison's letter so close to the election.
This comes from the same council who felt it entirely appropriate to publish an article enthusing over their latest victory over the Stradey development and employing the usual tactic of condemning opponents as troublemakers who seek only to 'harm' the council. A couple of months ago the Chief Executive was allowed to have the 'last word' over a series of letters concerning the funding of legal actions, an issue which had been distorted by the council into an diverted attack on the lady who had raised the matter in the first place. The flurry of letters written after the Chief Executive's were not printed. The issue of editorial control by County Hall is not new and goes back some years.
I am publishing these statements from Unison as too often, with the attitude of County Hall, we are left with a very one-sided view of any dispute. After all, it was only a few short weeks ago that Meryl Gravell uttered her infamous speech laying the blame for 'the problems in the council' on the laziness of the staff.
Here is the letter from Unison deemed 'too political' by a senior council officer for the Carmarthen Journal to print prior to en election;
"We would like to take this opportunity to give an alternative view to the refuse issues that have been causing Carmarthenshire County Council and some members of the public problems of late.
Despite the blame being laid firmly at the feet of the hardworking drivers and loaders, Carmarthenshire County Council Independent/labour led coalition has to take responsibility for these problems and not use the issue of single status as a smokescreen.
The Chief Executive, in his recent article fails to mention that in order to complete rounds many refuse workers would turn up early to check their lorries, work through their breaks and push themselves in order to complete rounds with the likely repercussion of physical ailments in later life. One of the many dangers of the job is having excreta sprayed over your face and clothes and of having to handle offensive waste. Ask yourself, how many refuse collectors have you seen over 50?
'Job and finish' has also been removed. Carmarthenshire County Council say that this due to wanting equality for all staff, but they fail to acknowledge that refuse workers work in rain, snow and icy conditions and are expected to work in wet clothes, at a frantic pace crossing dangerous roads for a full shift is not practical or sensible. Has there been a single complaint from other employees or the public about job and finish? The old saying that 'If it isn't broke, don't fix it' seems to apply here.
The Technical Services department has told loaders and drivers that they are no to run and not to collect refuse from both sides of the street at once; this has led to rounds taking longer to complete and a subsequent build up in refuse. Compare this to Cwm Collections [Cwm Environmental, wholly owned subsidiary of the council, see previous posts] the company which has been used to cover the unfinished rounds; it is alleged that they have been witnessed running, collecting from both sides of the street at once and not being forced to adhere to the same health and safety rules as council workers.
Along with other frontline workers, refuse loaders have been heavily hit as a result of Single Status, losing close to £2,500 in wages, losing their bonus and agreed overtime payments for Bank Holidays. Refuse collection has only worked well in this county due to the hard work and goodwill of the frontline staff. In light of these cuts is it any wonder that this goodwill has disappeared?
Compare the average wage of a refuse loader with that of the five top levels of management who were also spared from going through the single status process and were not asked to choose between a savage cut to their wages, terms and conditions, or the prospect of losing their job.
It is time that Carmarthenshire County Council owned up to the failures of Single Status and admit that it has protected the highest paid in the county while dealing a hammer blow to hard working frontline staff. Management has made several promises about the refuse collection rounds, how work is distributed, and their support for workers' single status appeals; these promises and more need to be made a reality if Carmarthenshire Council is to regain the trust and goodwill of refuse workers"
Carmarthenshire County Unison Branch
Mark Evans, Unison, has also issued this statement;
"The Unison Carmarthenshire Branch submitted this article for consideration on Tuesday 1st May. We have been informed by a source within the Carmarthen journal that when they asked Carmarthenshire Council for a statement on the issue, a senior officer advised the Journal not to print our letter before the local elections due to it's 'political nature'.
In their eventual response to our letter Carmarthenshire Council points out that Unison represents a small portion of the refuse workers. This is true, but we would fight just as hard if we had just one member in the affected service; we do not sit back and allow our members' terms and conditions to be eroded and their effectiveness as a workforce to be questioned without presenting their side of events.
The end of 'job and finish' is touted as an equality issue, but it was this perk of the job that was responsible for so much goodwill from the refuse workers. It was the possiblilty of an early finish (although we are unaware of any 'simply leaving three hours early'), that made working in soaking, cold and uncomfortable conditions bearable. With it, workers would work through breaks with the knowledge that they could get changed after completing their work, before their sodden and unclean clothes caused health problems. without it, Carmarthenshire Council must put inplace alternatives to ensure that workers do not spend overly long periods of time in adverse weather conditions and have adequate changing and break facilities away from their lorries. We would argue for the same treatment for all staff, be they refuse workers, traffic wardens, patrol staff etc and if any member works in such conditions we would urge them to speak to us so that we can take the issue up with management.
The response also mentions 'constructive discussions' that we have been involved in. We are firmly on the side of our members and to our knowledge, Carmarthenshire Council has only made some tentative suggestions, no concrete proposals as a solution to the current problem; a problem that can be summed up by saying that Carmarthenshire Council only meets it's statutory duty to collect waste by relying on the goodwill of refuse collectors, goodwill that is built on give and take. At the moment Carmarthenshire Council is 'taking' jobs, 'taking' wages and 'taking' conditions."
If anyone is under the false impression that forgoing breaks, or lumping bin bags around at speed, in the rain, to finish a round that bit quicker is a 'perk', then have a look at this; THESE are perks; Just the ticket - I doubt if many of the county's refuse collectors enjoy champagne lunches at rugby matches courtesy of property developers, or for that matter travel by train to nice hotels on the council credit cards either.