Bin strikes in North Yorkshire could intensify as workers are 'exploited' says union

A union representing refuse workers has warned a council responsible for collecting waste that the impact of strikes on residents will intensify unless urgent action is taken to increase their wages.

Unite rep Andrew Woodhead said industrial action would be rising from two to four days a week from August after telling a full meeting of North Yorkshire Council nearly 40 outsourced refuse workers in the Selby area were being “exploited”, left facing “unacceptable choices” and visiting food banks for basics.

In an impassioned appeal to a packed council chamber at County Hall in Northallerton, Mr Woodhead said the Conservative-run authority, which employs waste company Urbaser to collect waste in the former Selby district, needed to directly intervene in the dispute.

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He told the meeting the workers did not want to strike, but had been left with “no choice because of the wages they are paid which are some of the lowest in the country” for their roles.

Unite spokesman Andrew Woodhead issuing an appeal to North Yorkshire CouncilUnite spokesman Andrew Woodhead issuing an appeal to North Yorkshire Council
Unite spokesman Andrew Woodhead issuing an appeal to North Yorkshire Council

The workers have rejected an eight per cent pay offer, Mr Woodhead said, as it represented a real terms pay cut.

He said bin loaders and ground workers were bing paid £10.64 an hour, while refuse lorry drivers were paid £12.51 an hour.

Mr Woodhead said Urbaser had recently agreed a 13.5 per cent rise in pay for some of its workers in Hertfordshire, as well as work towards introducing sick pay.

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The meeting heard claims the strikes had already impacted on bin collections and street cleaning services, and the consequences would intensify if the dispute remained unresolved.

Mr Woodhead told the meeting: “This disruption caused to the public is entirely the fault of Urbaser.

“North Yorkshire should not be allowing such exploitative pay for work by its nature – dirty, heavy and unpleasant.”

However, executive member for managing our environment Councillor Greg White, indicated the authority would not intervene in the pay dispute, saying it was a matter for Urbaser and its staff to resolve.

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He said while the contract due to end in April, the authority had noted a “less than huge” difference between its rates of pay for refuse workers and those paid by Urbaser.

However, he added the council was encouraging both parties “to engage in positive discussion”, and added: “We urge them to sit down and talk about it get it sorted.”

Urbaser has stated the company would work to minimise disriuption to refuse and recycling collections and that it had a track record of being “responsive to the needs of our employees regarding pay”.

A spokesman said: “We have offered a fair wage increase of eight per cent for our Selby workforce, which is comparable to other refuse workers across the North Yorkshire unitary authority, but this has unfortunately been rejected by Unite.”