Edinburgh Council refuse workers are angry that Blue Arrow private contractors have been brought in to do their work. Only months ago the full Council voted against the privatisation of refuse collection, street cleaning and related services. But now Director of Services for Communities Mark Turley is disregarding the Council vote and bringing in private firms.
Refuse workers told us that at least 20 – 30 Blue Arrow employees have been working at the Russell Road refuse depot. In addition five lorries, each staffed by 3 Blue Arrow workers, have been operating out of Powderhall depot. What’s more, Blue Arrow recently advertised for 3 refuse collection supervisors to work on a council contract. This all comes on top of the recent similar controversial use of employees from the private company Enterprise in street cleansing.
And the latest is that another row is brewing over management plans to impose new shift patterns and to introduce fortnightly collections of household waste.
Private profiteering “obscene”
“We are short of workers and we agree more need taken on,” a refuse worker said. “But they should be taking on unemployed people from the dole queue, as Council workers.” He explained that in his section of the depot alone, eight permanent workers had left and none been replaced. This is affecting the ability of the workers to do the job properly and complete the runs.
“We have nothing against the Agency workers themselves – we believe they’re only getting about £6.40 per hour, the bulk of the money is going to the fat cats in Blue Arrow. Public money is being squandered, going into the coffers of Blue Arrow,” the worker denounced.
“The Blue Arrow workers are being issued with the same gear as Council workers. It’s hypocrisy, they’re trying to hoodwink the population,” a worker told us. “It’s obscene that a private company should be making profits from this council service after the councillors voted to keep the service in-house.”
“Management never said anything to us about Blue Arrow coming in,” said a worker, explaining that they only found out when increasing numbers of new workers started appearing in the depot. “Our shop steward has written a letter of protest to the Council.”
When the matter was raised at a recent UNITE branch meeting, Union convener Stephen MacGregor indicated that UNITE knew in advance that the Council were bringing in Blue Arrow, but there is no evidence the Union leaders did anything to stop this informal privatisation. Despite workers having demanded his resignation, Stephen MacGregor is refusing to stand down from his Union position.
It appears the Blue Arrow workers have been given little or no instruction on Health and Safety. Refuse workers explained to us that care needed to be taken when raising the large black street bins, if not affixed properly they could fall off, endangering both workers and any passers-by.
Edinburgh citizens – an appeal
Workers told us they appealed to Edinburgh citizens to contact and write to their councillors to demand that the decision to keep refuse collection and street cleansing in-house be respected, the use of private contractors be stopped, and instead new council jobs be made available for unemployed people, wherever possible in permanent positions.
Meanwhile the latest news (July 2012) is that the Council management are seeking to impose new shift patterns which would involve many workers having to regularly work till 10.30pm. Along with this the Council plan to introduce fortnightly household refuse collections from September.
Both measures are wholeheartedly opposed by Refuse Collection workers, and negotiations are reportedly underway with the Unions. We hope to bring more on this soon – all information welcome, and will be treated as confidential.
Earlier reports on struggles in Refuse Collection and Street Cleansing
The Edinburgh Muckraker http://edinburghmuckraker.org.uk/