Ongoing row disrupts bin collections

Black waste bins lined up awaiting collection. (Archive pic)
Black waste bins lined up awaiting collection. (Archive pic)

Council management and staff are working to resolve a dispute which has caused serious disruption to bin collections across Newtownabbey.

Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council has been inundated with complaints from disgruntled householders over the past few weeks after bins have gone uncollected.

The local authority has confirmed that the disruption to the refuse collection service in Newtownabbey relates to “grievances” within its waste management section.

The dispute recently saw workers from the council’s Ballyearl depot drive bin lorries to Antrim Civic Centre and stage a demonstration outside the corporate management offices of the council’s Cleansing Department.

The Times understands that several agency workers lost their jobs after taking part in the demonstration, described by the council as “an episode of unprotected industrial action”.

It’s understood the council is now awaiting a reply to a solicitor’s letter sent to the GMB’s regional office asking if the industrial action was sanctioned by the trade union.

The Times made several attempts to contact the GMB’s local officer, but he was unavailable at the time of publication.

“We have responded to the industrial action in line with legal advice and continue to monitor service provision on a daily basis. A number of meetings have also been held with the relevant trade union representatives in an attempt to resolve matters,” a council spokesperson said.

One council source told the Times that “the phones have been ringing off the hook with people complaining that their bins haven’t been emptied.” And they confirmed that elected representatives could be asked to consider the appointment of a private contractor to empty bins if the ongoing disruption continues.

At Monday night’s meeting of the Operations Committee, councillors discussed the issue behind closed doors.

While some elected representatives were reluctant to make any comment on the issue afterwards, Cllr John Blair stressed that efforts are being made to resolve the ongoing problems.

“I know people are working hard behind the scenes to resolve these issues,” he said.

“The management at local level and senior level are working extremely hard to ensure public services are delivered to the highest standards.”

Despite previously confirming that recent service disruption was due to problems between staff and management, a statement issued by the council after Monday night’s meeting claimed that the current situation “relates mainly to damaged bins which need replaced.” However, a spokesperson later acknowledged that “the disruption on the ground is in the context of the council addressing industrial relations issues.”

It’s understood some workers at the Newtownabbey depot have raised concerns about collecting damaged bins, claiming it represents a health and safety issue.

“Following a report being made to the council’s Operations Committee last night, it was agreed that, for a period of one month borough wide, the council would waive the normal cost to residents to replace a damaged black bin. This arrangement will be reviewed at the end of the one month period and a further report will be made to committee,” a spokesperson said.

“We sincerely apologise to customers in the Newtownabbey area for the service disruption. We would advise customers with a bin that has been missed to please leave their bin out so that it can be collected within 24 hours. We are also advising customers with a damaged black bin to contact: 028 9034 0056/57 (Newtownabbey area) or 028 9446 3113 (Antrim area).

“The council’s website and Twitter will be updated on a regular basis to keep customers informed.”

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