Unite, the UK and Ireland’s largest union, is warning that refuse contractors and local councils across the UK are “failing to ensure” refuse workers are social distancing and are provided with other safety measures to prevent coronavirus.
Unite says it has identified “numerous reports” of workers being expected to travel with three or four other workers in the cab of refuse wagons, which is clearly in contravention of social distancing rules.
There is also a major problem with a lack of gloves, hand sanitiser, deep cleaning of wagons and other issues, the union says.
Unite says it has worked constructively with a number of councils to ensure the safety of these key workers at this time of national crisis.
Newham council in London has introduced a “no depot attendance rule” agreements on social distancing, where employees can use their own vehicle to attend designated points. Parking restrictions have been also been lifted and bin wagons are “deep cleaned” daily.
Endangering health of refuse workers
Unite national officer for local authorities Jim Kennedy said: “There are problems throughout the UK where refuse workers are being forced to undertake collections by contractors without compliance to government rules on social distancing.
“This is endangering the health of refuse workers, their families and the general public.
Unite members recognise they are essential workers and want to deliver this key service, but they are becoming increasingly frightened that they, and by implication their families, are being exposed to unnecessary and needless risks
“Unite members recognise they are essential workers and want to deliver this key service, but they are becoming increasingly frightened that they, and by implication their families, are being exposed to unnecessary and needless risks, due to the flagrant disregard of contractors and councils to follow the rules.
“Private contractors and local authorities must bring in strict rules to ensure that workers can socially distance while at work at all times.
“If a council has outsourced its refuse collection service, it still has a moral and public health duty, as the client, to ensure that its contractors are ensuring social distancing and other safety measures are being followed.”
WISH information document
Unite has undertaken tripartite negotiations (unions, employers and government) as part of the Waste Industry Safety and Health (WISH) forum to establish information on safe working during the current crisis.
Although social distancing may be “difficult or impossible” for crews working together in the cabs of waste collection vehicles, if procedures are followed the risk of contracting Coronavirus “should be low”, according to the draft WISH document.
The ‘Waste Industry Safety and Health (WISH) has issued new guidance which was published for consultation with the final version due to be published, intended to provide basic advice on waste management operations, information on what to do if an employee/s develops symptoms and advice on contingency planning.
Consideration should be given to reducing the number of persons who must share cab space where this is practicable
With the spread of COVID-19 and the current need for social distancing, there have been questions among the waste management sector regarding how to implement this is a situation where waste collections crews work together in close confines in the cabs of waste collection vehicles.
The document says: “Consideration should be given to reducing the number of persons who must share cab space where this is practicable.”
The document further recommends: “Whatever method of transporting employees to collection points, and collection, is used – organisations should take suitable and sufficient measures to ensure that employees have access to a sufficient supply of soap and water, alcohol based sprays or wipes and other materials for them to be able to maintain a high standard of hygiene.”
Commitment to fully pay staff
Unite also announced that waste contractor Amey has agreed that all its workers in the UK will be fully paid if required to self-isolate due to the coronavirus, and that it is working with the firm on implementing social distancing rules.
The commitment to fully pay staff will apply to those who are required to self-isolate for seven days, for 14 days and for those who for health reasons have to self-isolate for 12 weeks.
The commitment to fully pay affected staff will also be backdated.
Workers should not be put into a position where they feel that they have to break self-isolation rules for financial reasons
Unite is also working with Amey to ensure that social distancing rules are adhered to in its workplaces and on its outsourced contracts.
Unite national officer for local authorities Jim Kennedy said: “There are many companies that should take a leaf out of Amey’s book and also pay staff fully to ensure that workers are not penalised during the coronavirus crisis.
“Workers should not be put into a position where they feel that they have to break self-isolation rules for financial reasons.
“Unite is looking forward to seeing how Amey will tackle the social distancing challenges in its workplace and fully expects that these plans will build on its strong commitment to pay sick workers fairly.”