Edinburgh’s bin men not to blame for shambolic new collection arrangements

26 Sep

By Peter Lawson, Unite Shop Steward, City of Edinburgh Council Waste Services

It seems that across the capital hardworking frontline refuse collectors are being blamed for rubbish not being picked up on time. We appeal to the public to understand that this is not the fault of the guys out on the street collecting the refuse.

Two weeks ago the Council introduced a new shift system for refuse collection. One local resident we spoke to said, “I don’t have a clue what is going on with the new bin days. The information I’ve been given by the Council is completely inadequate.”

Discussing the problems on the kerbside one Unite member in Refuse Collection told us that he and the crew had been confronted by an angry resident. Dissatisfied with the response given by the crew member the resident then shouted at the crew, “F****** lazy b******s, just do your bloody jobs.”

These hardworking men and women have not received adequate information and training to deal with the public with regarding these changes. We’ve literally had to pick up the pieces of the Council cutbacks to the service.

On top of these problems our dedicated workers have seen their pay and conditions eroded over a period of many years. The latest changes have been the introduction of shift patterns they are now expected to work. There are unresolved issues with regards to payment for these shifts and, in addition, there have been considerable changes to the work/life balance of our members.

In terms of problems with Health and Safety, we would like to remind people that Health and Safety Executive research shows that refuse collectors are 10 times more likely to be killed at work than those in most other professions.  Also, the incidence of serious and enduring musculoskeletal injury dramatically increases when directly handling heavy and bulky waste bags.

This is not a ‘rubbish excuse’ as the Scotsman newspaper and Tory Councillor Jeremy Balfour were quick to argue. Our claims are backed up by evidence:

Regulation 4 of The Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992 states, “Each employer will, so far as is reasonably practicable, avoid the need for his employees to undertake any manual handling operations at work which involve a risk of them being injured.”

These regulations were one of the main reasons the ‘wheelie bins’ were brought into use in the first place – something worth remembering.

The Council has to comply with the law and the trade unions can be helpful in assisting with this.

It’s worth noting we don’t wholly oppose the changes to the collection days being implemented by the Council. Our hard working members are bending over backwards to make this work. However, the current arrangements cannot continue indefinitely. The current situation will be revisited in the coming weeks should the situation not improve.

The reality is that these problems have arisen because of poor planning and communication at management level. It’s as simple as that.

Again we call on the public not to blame the workers at service delivery level.  Like everyone else in this economic climate we’re just trying to do our jobs in very trying circumstances.


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