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Coronavirus Kent: Medway binmen and street cleaners threaten to strike

Medway rubbish collectors and street cleaners have threatened an all-out strike over coronavirus issues.

Members of the public services union Unite, who work for council contractors Medway Norse, have voted unanimously for industrial action.

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

Their grievances, which include lack of protective gear and equipment, will be discussed at a meeting with management tomorrow.

If problems are not resolved, it will go to a postal vote which could lead to workers downing tools in five weeks' time – in the middle of the outbreak sweeping the UK.

Kevin Woods, Unite shop steward and convener, said: "We are not taking this lightly at this sensitive and precarious time. We are all husbands, parents and tax-payers.

"We have a commitment to the residents of the Medway community. Some have put notes on their bin bags saying thanks for continuing this service and we have been touched by this.

"But we have staff working with just rubber gloves and no sanitisers, and some with underlying health conditions."

Rubbish collections are under threat. Stock picture: Urbaser
Rubbish collections are under threat. Stock picture: Urbaser

The union says Medway Norse has failed to comply with health and safety and grievance policies, is not honouring outstanding holidays and has not effectively engaged with Unite and staff.

Medway Norse has so far declined to comment.

Mr Woods added: "The current climate at Medway Norse mainly centres around the lack of health and safety provision, which would include things like access to suitable PPE [Personal Protective Equipment], hand sanitiser and masks.

"We are currently only issued with rubber gloves and wipes which are due to be rationed. We have no access to toilet facilities while on the road daily, leaving these provisions as our only defences.

"Currently staff have no guidance on grouping. Daily, we have groups when the issue and return of keys takes place, within smoking areas and within rest facilities.

Kevin Woods, Medway Unite shop steward (32286914)
Kevin Woods, Medway Unite shop steward (32286914)

"We have had no consultation from Norse since this crisis began, merely two notices to staff. Our at risk members currently include those in cancer care, COPD, asthma, diabetes and heart problems.

"We would like these withdrawn immediately from the workplace on full pay for the duration as per government guidelines.

"We want assurances on pay for those with families at home. We are, as always, sympathetic to the current Covid-19 crisis and will always look to serve the communities of Medway throughout this time.

"We are all, however, fathers, sons, brothers, wives and sisters, many with families and, of course, concerned at this time.

"We would like to thank residents for the messages of support received so far. Strike action is always the last resort, but the very lives of our members and staff must come first.

"We urge Norse Group to make the assurances we seek and to keep our staff safe and not to suffer financially through no fault of their own."

Medway Norse took over responsibility for waste and environmental services in Medway in January.

The seven-year agreement was for Medway Norse to provide waste collection services to 111,000 residential premises.

The agreement, worth around £12million a year, saw 270 staff transfer into Medway Norse. More than 150 of them are Unite members.

KentOnline contacted the company twice in two days for a response and on both occasions was told there would be no comment.

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