Amey is set to meet with union representatives on Friday in a last-ditch attempt to avert strikes by waste collectors in two Surrey districts next week.
The utilities giant is hoping to come to an agreement with employees working in Elmbridge and Surrey Heath.
Refuse collectors and street cleaners who are members of the GMB union voted last month to strike on November 5, 6, 19 and 20 (see letsrecycle.com story) in a dispute with employer Amey over pay and holiday entitlement – meaning that over two hundred staff could walk out and thousands of bins could go uncollected.
Yesterday (October 29), GMB said that it has been invited to a last-minute meeting on Friday – but said it was not optimistic.
Paul Grafton from GMB said: “Amey has requested a meeting on Friday which we have agreed to as our doors are always open.”
He added: “I very much doubt if they will put anything meaningful on the table.”
A spokeswoman for Amey confirmed that it was continuing to engage with GMB locally and was hoping to reach a resolution, but added: “As far as we are concerned we are preparing for the strike to go ahead.”
Amey has held a £100 million joint waste collection contract with four Surrey councils – Mole Valley, Elmbridge, Surrey Heath and Woking – since December 2016 (see letsrecycle.com story).
But, the company has become embroiled in a dispute with workers over pay, leading to the proposed strike action in Elmbridge and Surrey Heath. A further ballot for strike action in Woking is also due to be scheduled.
GMB claims that staff working on the contract earn on average 17 percent less than some nearby boroughs – such as Reigate & Banstead and Wandsworth – and also have less sick pay and holiday entitlement.
However, Amey says that it has committed to paying its employees fairly and says that it has already reached agreement with the refuse and street cleaning workforce in Mole Valley, the Elmbridge street cleaning team and the Woking refuse workers, an agreement which it says is not recognised by the GMB. It also says that the pay it offers to employees in Surrey is comparable to other Surrey districts and should not be compared to London boroughs, where it said crews can work 45 hours a week.
Mark Stammers, account director for the Amey Surrey contract, said: “We are extremely disappointed by the vote to strike. As we have stated previously, we are committed to paying our employees fairly, and we are actively working towards a resolution of the GMB’s demands for a 17% pay rise and 38 days’ holiday.
“Our approach has always been to address the salary discrepancies we inherited when we took on the contract and migrate all pay rates to the highest level over a period of three years. This means that the lowest paid are being offered more, year on year, than the highest rates, to bring them up to the higher level.”
Amey added that minimising disruption to residents “remains our priority”.
Joint Waste Solutions (JWS) – the council body set up to manage the Amey contract – said it was doing “everything possible to help Amey to mitigate the strike action and minimise any disruption to the service if it goes ahead.”
It advised that residents should put their bin(s) out as normal during the proposed strike period.
JWS explained: “If they are not emptied on their usual day residents should leave them out and they will be emptied as soon as possible, with refuse and food waste prioritised first, then recycling including textiles and electricals, and then garden waste.”
It added: “We are writing to all residents who will be impacted to make sure they are aware. But, as with any situation like this, things can change.”