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Coronavirus Kent: Medway bin collections to carry on after Unite members call off strike in row with Medway Norse and Medway Council over Covid-19 safety measures


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Binmen involved in a row with council bosses over a lack of coronavirus safety measures have called off their threats to go on strike after a deal was agreed.

Refuse workers in said they would walk out if Medway Norse, the council-owned company which runs bin collections and street cleaning in Medway, did not introduce better personal protection equipment (PPE).

Medway Norse crews have been protesting about working conditions during the coronavirus social distancing rules. Pictures: Unite
Medway Norse crews have been protesting about working conditions during the coronavirus social distancing rules. Pictures: Unite

Workers' union Unite has been in discussion with Norse and the council for more than a week.

Members called for better social distancing measures for binmen who have been working in close proximity to each other without suitable PPE, the union said.

Unite released images to KentOnline earlier this week showing staff sitting four-to-a-cab in refuse trucks ahead of crunch talks.

Norse has now agreed to introduce increased social distancing and hygiene safety for its employees on waste collection routes throughout the Towns.

Unite said the deal was reached with Norse after a similar agreement was reached with Thurrock Council in Essex.

Union members had been complaining about being forced to sit four-to-a-cab in the company's refuse trucks. Pictures: Unite
Union members had been complaining about being forced to sit four-to-a-cab in the company's refuse trucks. Pictures: Unite

These include not insisting on workers sitting more than two to a vehicle cab, full PPE, such as hand sanitiser, gloves, masks and wipes, and changes to toilet access and other measures to ensure a safer workplace.

Unite regional officer Phil Silkstone said: “These measures should have been introduced immediately but it was only because our members, with help from the union’s organising department, stood firm on these issues that they have been resolved.

“Norse Medway’s employees will no doubt be relieved that the company have taken steps to ensure their safety, as well as that of their families and the wider community.

Medway Norse has a site in Pier Road, Gillingham. Picture: Google (32284392)
Medway Norse has a site in Pier Road, Gillingham. Picture: Google (32284392)

"It is now imperative that Norse grants medical suspensions on full pay to staff with underlying health conditions or allows them to be furloughed under the government’s pay scheme to provide 80 per cent of their wages.

“Those that need to self-isolate also need to be granted medical suspensions on full pay.

“These measures need to be implemented so workers do not risk coming into work and potentially spreading the disease because they don't want their incomes plummeting on statutory sick pay.

“Medway Council is granting medical suspensions on full pay to at risk and self-isolating staff and there is no reason why Norse shouldn’t follow suit.”

Ruth Du-Lieu, Assistant Director of Frontline Services at Medway Council, said: “The safety and wellbeing of all our staff remains a top priority and we are continuing to work very closely with our colleagues at Medway Norse.

"The safety and wellbeing of all our staff remains a top priority and we are continuing to work very closely with our colleagues"

"Thank you to our waste crews for their hard work and commitment during this difficult time.

"We would also like to thank residents for their patience and cooperation while the crews work hard to collect all household waste and recycling across Medway.”

A spokesman for Medway Norse Group says the company has always followed guidelines issued by Public Health England and will continue to do so while praising staff for working hard to "deliver an essential service for Medway residents".

In a statement, the company said: "We have also been taking note of guidance published by the Waste Industry Safety and Health (WISH) Forum, together with the ongoing information and knowledge shared between us and numerous other national providers of waste services.

"Following constructive discussions with Unite at a regional level, clarity has been provided that all guidance is being adhered to, and about the actions that Medway Norse are taking, and we are pleased to report that all critical services are operational."

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