STRIKE breakers are being trained up in Sheffield by waste firm Veolia to foil industrial action planned by binmen, angry union reps claimed today.
Workers have voted for three days of strike action, on April 13, 20 and 27, and have left some bins unemptied for the last two days by working to rule as their pay dispute intensifies.
Talks between both sides are due to be held today involving conciliation service ACAS.
But Peter Davies, organiser for the GMB trade union who represents the 200 binmen employed by Veolia, accused the company of seeking to ‘break’ the industrial action and ‘inflaming’ the row by bringing in non-unionised agency workers. He said: “I am aware about 47 agency workers have received inductions from Veolia in the build-up to this dispute. It is a clear attempt to break any industrial actions and will only serve to inflame the dispute.
“It is a very unwise move by the company – there are all sorts of implications to do with working practices and health and safety if they are actually going to carry out the jobs of drivers and operatives.”
It is believed agency staff would provide a ‘skeleton service’ if a strike went ahead and help relieve a backlog afterwards. Mr Davies said Veolia has threatened legal action to halt the strikes claiming the ballot for industrial action will have expired by the dates set by workers. But he added: “We are taking legal advice ourselves and will reballot if necessary.”
The dispute has arisen because Veolia staff have not received a pay rise for three years - but say the company has received an annual inflationary increase in the fee it is paid by Sheffield Council for running household bin collections.
A maximum pay rise of 2.5 per cent has been offered to workers for the coming year but the union says not all staff will qualify as there are nine different pay grades for workers doing the same jobs.
Mr Davies said staff are also unhappy because the offer comes with conditions attached, such as making it compulsory for all staff to work bank holidays.
He said: “Management received a 2.5 per cent pay rise last year and are having the same again this year. If it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for our members who have to work in all weathers to provide the service.”
Sheffield Hallam MP and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has waded into the row, writing to Sheffield Council leader Coun Julie Dore urging her to intervene and act as a mediator in talks between Veolia and the GMB.
He said: “I’m concerned about the impact on my constituents and the apparent apathetic attitude of the council.
“If the strikes go ahead, some of my constituents could face the prospect of having no bin collections for four weeks.”
He told Coun Dore: “Given the seriousness of the situation I do not believe your response of, ‘It is up to Veolia to deal with the situation’, is acceptable.
“I request you do everything in your power to avoid the potential strike, offering to act as mediators in talks between Veolia and the GMB if necessary.”
He also called for ‘contingency plans’ to ensure bin collections continue during a strike.
A Sheffield Council spokeswoman said: “We want Veolia to do everything they can to make sure people are affected as little as possible by this dispute.”
A Veolia Environmental Services spokeswoman said: “Since discussions started a few weeks ago we have been and still are committed to finding a resolution and will enter discussions with the GMB and ACAS in a positive manner.”
■ Households whose bins were not emptied yesterday due to staff working to rule and the bad weather were asked to leave them out again by 7am today for collection.