Crunch talks are due to take place tomorrow (Tuesday aJuly 7) to resolve health and safety concerns over the lack of Covid-19 prevention measures at the Crayford refuse depot which serves the London Borough of Bexley.
Pressure from Unite has prompted the talks with controversial outsourcing giant Serco which runs the council contract.
This follows criticism from the Health and Safety Executive over the failure to have adequate social distancing measures in place at the Thames Road depot, Crayford, Kent from where about 200 employees work.
The HSE’s criticisms from an inspection visit in May included that cleaning was ‘not robust enough’; inadequate monitoring of those visiting the site; and people passing on the stairs with no social distancing.
Unite also said that there had been two separate serious injuries recently when one member had his foot run over by a lorry and another nearly lost the use of his fingers.
“What we are seeking from tomorrow’s talks is a dramatic step-change for the better in the health and safety regime which we think should mean a change of management at the Crayford depot,” commented Unite regional officer Ruth Hydon.
“Our members’ lives have been put at risk due to managerial incompetence. Many members are on ‘poverty wages’ and have been working right through the pandemic ensuring that the refuse of Bexley residents is collected regularly – so, at the very least, they deserve the best Covid-19 preventive measures in the depot and their working environment when they are on their collection routes.
“The HSE’s damning inspection report was a marker that Serco urgently needs to get its health and safety act together – there needs to be a radical change of culture in this area. Cost should not be a factor when combating coronavirus.
“I do not say this lightly, but the workforce at Serco Bexley has completely lost confidence in the local management’s ability to be responsible for their safety,” added Hydon.
Earlier this year, Unite’s 125 members working on the Bexley contract took a day-and-a-half of strike action over the ‘dire’ pay they receive from Serco – but called off further industrial action as the lockdown came into force in March. The refuse workforce was earning about £4 an hour less than their counterparts in Greenwich.
By Shaun Noble