Unite, the UK and Ireland’s largest union, is warning that refuse contractors and local councils across the UK are failing to ensure that refuse workers are socially distancing and are provided with other safety measures to prevent coronavirus.

Numerous reports 

Unite has identified numerous reports of workers being expected to travel with three or four other workers in the cab of refuse wagons, which is clearly in contravention of social distancing rules. There is also a major problem with a lack of gloves, hand sanitizer, deep cleaning of wagons and other issues.

Medway shame

The problems of refuse workers not being allowed to follow government social distance guidance is highlighted by the actions and the attitude of private contractor Norse Medway who has declared “business as usual” and has warned that any decrease in the regularity of refuse collections would result in the outbreak “of cholera”.

Unite has worked constructively with a number of councils to ensure the safety of these key workers at this time of national crisis.

Newham good practice

For instance Newham council in London, have introduced a no depot attendance rule, agreements on social distancing, crews to join round at designated points, if employees use their own vehicle to attend designated points parking restrictions have been lifted and an allowance is paid for the use of their car, and bin wagons are deep cleaned daily. The agreement is reviewed on a daily basis.

Unite has undertaken tripartite negotiations (unions, employers and government) as part of the Waste Industry Safety and Health (WISH) forum to establish guidelines on safe working during the current crisis. The document says: “Consideration should be given to reducing the number of persons who must share cab space where this is practicable.”

The document further recommends: “Whatever method of transporting employees to collection points, and collection, is used - organisations should take suitable and sufficient measures to ensure that employees have access to a sufficient supply of soap and water, alcohol based sprays or wipes and other materials for them to be able to maintain a high standard of hygiene.”

Problems across the UK

 Unite national officer for local authorities Jim Kennedy said: “There are problems throughout the UK where refuse workers are being forced to undertake collections by contractors without compliance to government rules on social distancing.

 “This is endangering the health of refuse workers, their families and the general public.

 “Unite members recognise they are essential workers and want to deliver this key service,  but they are becoming increasingly frightened that they, and by implication their families, are being exposed to unnecessary and needless risks, due to the flagrant disregard of contractors and councils to follow the rules.

 “Private contractors and local authorities must bring in strict rules to ensure that workers can socially distance while at work at all times.

 “If a council has outsourced its refuse collection service it still has a moral and public health duty, as the client, to ensure that its contractors are ensuring social distancing and other safety measures are being followed.”


Notes to editors:

 During the coronavirus crisis Unite is working to keep workers and the public safe, to defend jobs and to protect incomes.

For more information please contact Unite senior communications officer Barckley Sumner on 07802 329235 or 0203 371 2067.

Email: [email protected]

Unite is Britain and Ireland’s largest union with members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Len McCluskey.