Countrystyle Recycling has issued the following statement to clarify matters set out in the above press release:
1.“More than 100 workers, responsible for loading and driving bin lorries, began two weeks of continuous strike action yesterday”
Countrystyle can confirm that on the morning of 13th July 2022, 70 members of staff employed on its Bexley Street Services Contract had withdrawn their labour in relation to the strike action announced by Unite the Union scheduled to last until 7th August 2022.
2. Unite General Secretary, Sharon Graham, said: “The biggest obstacle to resolving this dispute is the ending of the job and finish provision for Countrystyle’s workers”
At no time has Countrystyle sought to end “job & finish” as suggested by the Unite General Secretary, Sharon Graham. We have consistently stated that Countrystyle requires a re-interpretation of “job & finish” to reflect a modern approach to delivering a productive and quality outcome for the residents of the London Borough of Bexley, that is fair to all members of the ‘Group’ employed by Countrystyle to deliver that outcome.
This is what underpins “Group Task & Finish”. Instead of the individual employee deciding when he or she has done enough work in any given day (which is how “job & finish” is currently interpreted), this concept creates a collective task reasonably set for a Group of staff who have a common objective of delivering the same waste collection or street cleansing service. It is Countrystyle’s view that this approach also fundamentally reinforces one of Unite’s own stated objects (set out in Rule 2 of the Unite 2019 Rule Book):
“to promote equality and fairness for all”
What could be more equal and fair than for all staff engaged in a Group, doing what is reasonable to ensure that such a task is evenly and fairly allocated and that each member of such Group helps deliver that Group task? Countrystyle has also been consistent in stating that any employee will only be required to work the stated contractual hours for which they are paid.
This fully takes account of the fact that certain members of staff that Countrystyle inherited who are employed on the Single Status Contract (formerly issued by Bexley Council back in 2008), are only required to work 36 hours but are paid for 42 hours (of which 2 hours are paid at an enhanced overtime rate).
3. “This industry standard provision, in place in Bexley for decades, makes the job bearable for staff. It is outrageous that Countrystyle is trying to scrap it. Ending it needs to come off the table or these strikes will continue with Unite’s full support.”
Countrystyle wholly refutes Unite’s suggestion that “job & finish” as operated by certain staff employed in connection with its Street Services contract at Bexley is by any means an “industry standard provision”.
Countrystyle acknowledges that “job & finish” as interpreted by certain (but not all) staff employed on the Bexley Street Services Contract, has been in place since 2008 when the Council first “outsourced” its Street Services contract to the private sector.
As is often the case with Union staff, the suggestion that this “interpretation” of “job & finish” makes it “equal and fair” for all, is in practice, the complete opposite, as only Union members benefit from their own interpretation. All other staff (over 100 of those employed in total under the Contract) have to work their contracted hours. It is Countrystyle’s view that this would be the reasonable expectation of any employee and, importantly, any resident of the London Borough of Bexley.
In an interview with the Today programme on Radio 4 on Monday, 11th July 2022, TUC General Secretary, Frances O’Grady acknowledged that “something needed to be done to address the problems of low productivity in the British economy”. Countrystyle could not agree more with this statement and we would argue that this dispute is about addressing the very issue of productivity of those workers who are hiding behind their interpretation of a contract set through “custom and practice” since 2008. This neither embraces the requirement to deliver, or right to receive, a productive and quality service to Bexley rate payers, who ultimately pay for the very collection services being disrupted nor treats their fellow workers equally or fairly, simply because they do not have the benefit of such a clause in their contract.
4. Unite Regional Officer, Tabusam Ahmed, said: “Workers at the depot already help during absences, missed collections and breakdowns. The efficiency savings generated by formalising group and task finish will be absolutely minimal – this is about punishing workers because they asked for a cost of living pay rise.
Countrystyle’s Compliance Director, Stuart Butler-Gallie, commented on this statement from Unite Regional Officer Tabusam Ahmed as follows:
“This appears a very simple statement by Unite, but what it masks is the reality of how the contract operates in practice. Single Status workers are specifically contractually entitled not to collect their own missed bins and Countrystyle has confirmed to Unite that it is not seeking to change this contractual right. However, under current arrangements the contractor has to pay overtime to get a Single Status crew to collect the missed bins of another crew. On the face of it this seems like a “mutually beneficial revenue” generation exercise and I am certain will come as a shock to Bexley ratepayers.”
Stuart Butler-Gallie added:
“It is true that employees on the Single Status contract and certain of its variants, will work for a maximum of 1 hour following any breakdown of their Refuse Collection Vehicle, but custom and practice means that this “goodwill” gesture does not apply should a vehicle have a “reoccurring” problem and they will charge overtime for any period over 1 hour that a vehicle is impacted by a breakdown. Similarly, this is viewed by the Single Status staff as part of their 6 hours “standby” payment meaning the 42 hours they are paid for but for which only 36 actually have to be worked.”
Stuart Butler-Gallie further commented that:
“there are no circumstances that he was aware of where “help” is specifically provided during other staff absences. In practice, if increased absences arise, say due to sickness, any shortfall in delivery of scheduled services will invariably only be caught-up by offering overtime to staff. This is therefore not a case of providing “help” without a corresponding additional expense to Countrystyle. The key objective of Countrystyle is to establish the safest environment for our teams, where staff are not required to rush, but to work at a reasonable rate to complete their allocated task in the hours available during each shift, whilst maintaining the required levels of quality.
Stuart Butler-Gallie added:
“The use of the term punishment is entirely inappropriate. The 8% pay rise on offer for 2022, taken together with the pay parity awarded to all staff in October 2021, is very fair in the current environment. It is not a punishment to require staff employed on the Bexley Street Services contract to deliver those services in a safe, high quality and courteous manner for the residents that we serve”.
Countrystyle Recycling Limited
14th July 2022