Bin service disruption as staff are ‘pushed to the limit’

A RISE in the number of bins not collected in the borough has been partly blamed on binmen who have gone on stress leave since the introduction of a new computerised system.

And the binmen want immediate face to face talks with councillors over the effect the new system is having on them.

Director of Environmental Services, Lorraine Crawford told councillors there had been a rise in the number of refuse collection staff who had taken sick leave recently because of stress issues and this had impacted on the bin service.

She also said there had been a spell of breakdowns last week which had also contributed to the collection problems. “There have been issues with some of the routes and these have been amended,” she told the council on Tuesday.

Several councillors revealed problems with bin collections across the borough and particularly in rural areas.

SDLP Cllr Joe Nelson voiced concern about the relationship between the Council and the Union. “It’s at an all time low,” he said and blamed ‘poor leadership’.

“The staff feel hard done by when they are dealing with the council,” he said.

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John Dawson of GMB Union told the Mail the workforce had been pushed to complete unachieveable workloads. “This is causing stress,” he said.

“There is no trust between the council and the workforce,” said Mr Dawson, refering to the councillors decision to overturn a deal between union and management regarding working conditions.

Mr Dawson said staff wanted face to face meetings with councillors to express the stress they are under and that he hopes to meet senior council staff this week to discuss the matter.

A Council spokesperson told the Mail: “There were difficulties on a few of the routes last week due to breakdowns and some staff absenteeism which was due to a variety of reasons.

“However, all bins were lifted due to the hard work of the remaining staff.

“There is no working to rule in place and we have not been notified of any potential action by Unions. The absence figures for the whole of the Environmental Services Department in March was 9.20%. Aprils figures are not yet available.”

DUP Cllr Stephen Moutray said there had been a litany of issues since the bin roll out began eight weeks ago. “I thought these problems had been largely sorted out,” he said.

Ms Crawford revealed that there had been technical and software difficulties with the computerised system identifying bin routes.

She said that the Unions said the new system was causing its members stress and there is a meeting planned with the union this week (Wednesday).

Alderman Mourtray said he was concerned about the overtime being paid. “The situation is being exasperated,” he said.

DUP Cllr Mark Baxter revealed that he was also concerned that the unions may be “working to rule and that this is a form of industrial action”.

The Director said the unions were not working to rule ‘at this time’. She said there was only one union which was in dispute with the Council and they were seeking legal advice, however, so far have not balloted their members regarding industrial action.

Mayor Carla Lockhart said: “The council took a decision in relation to this item and I hope the directors will implement it.”

Cllr Noel McGeown asked if the bins had been lifted normally or with the use of overtime.

The Director said there had been some overtime.

Cllr Causby asked if the Council is on course to make savings with a reduction in fuel and overtime.

Regarding the new computerised bin optimisation system, Cllr Causby said: “We were told it was the utopia of bin collection.”

The Director said fuel will be monitored and that some vehicles had been taken out of the system.

Sinn Fein’s Tommy O’Connor said while there will be hiccups in any new system, he believed it would be a success.

SDLP Cllr Declan McAlinden said there had been problems with bin collection in Derrytrasna three times in the past five weeks.

He claimed that workers were told to collect the bins but because it was quarter to four they decided they were not going to do it.

Mayor Carla Lockhart said there were still problems with assisted pull-outs for those with disablities. “It’s unacceptable for them to have to ring week after week. Extra work needs to be done to sort this out,” she said.

Ms Crawford said Council was working on the urban and rural split and someone had been dedicated to solve the issue over assisted pull-outs. “I hope to have it sorted by the end of the month,” she said.

DUP Cllr Gladys McCullough said it was important there was a clear line of communication with the ratepayer.

She said there had been confusion about when brown bins were being collected in Brownstown Park.

“It’s absolutely ridiculous,” she said.