North Herts waste collector alleges ‘unsafe’ working conditions at Urbaser

The employee claims that missed collections are due to staff not being paid overtime. Picture: Danny

The employee claims that missed collections are due to staff not being paid overtime. Picture: Danny Loo - Credit: Picture: DANNY LOO

An employee of North Hertfordshire’s embattled waste contractor has alleged “unsafe working conditions” in his job as a refuse collector, which he claims landed a colleague in hospital.

Since Urbaser took over the contract from Veolia in May, there have been regular complaints of missed bin collections across the district.

Now an operative has claimed that insufficient training, staff shortages and issues with route access make it very hard for him to do his job.

The worker – who wished to remain anonymous – told this paper that “because of training, or lack thereof”, a loader had to be rushed to hospital after he was knocked out of a lorry at the Cumberlow Compost Services green and food waste landfill at Buntingford.

“I feel these are unsafe working conditions,” he said. “Many feel the same, but won’t act on it as they have families to support.”

He further claims Urbaser has sent them out for collections without giving them the right equipment.

“They have given us tablets that don’t work, and told us we have to use them,” he said.

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“If the tablets don’t work, we can’t do it – and if we can’t do it, we get shouted at.

“I have never seen so much negativity. So many people love the job but hate the company.”

The anonymous collector told this paper that while on a missed bin run, bosses made him and his crew “contaminate a lorry by sticking garden waste in with recycling and purple bin waste that has now gone to landfill”.

In light of last week’s acknowledgement by Urbaser of “employment issues” affecting collections, he claimed the company has not been paying staff sick pay or overtime – something the contractor has firmly denied.

Urbaser said the staff member injured at the Buntingford landfill had been “given an induction and trained in using the vehicle”, and that “the accident was due to an operator error and not related to any training needs”.

Urbaser’s Mark Pigott told this paper: “The working conditions have not changed since Urbaser took over the contract. All over time has been paid to staff, albeit there was an issue with the staff understanding how to complete the form which resulted in a delay in payment for some.

“In the case of sick pay, this has been paid for all permanent staff, as per their contracts of employment.”

Mr Pigott said a claim from the anonymous worker that most Urbaser lorries were overweight was “absolutely false and impossible”, as “the vehicles have cut-off sensors, which means that they cannot overload”.

Regarding the tablet devices, he added: “There has been issues with the tablets losing power, but this is being resolved with the permanent vehicles being delivered – as a contingency the staff have all been issued with hard copies of the rounds and mobile phones.”

The new waste contract was entered by North Hertfordshire and East Hertfordshire councils jointly to save money. Services have been running smoothly in East Herts, while North Herts has been plagued with problems.

This was initially attributed to sign-up data issues stemming from the decision of North Herts District Council’s cabinet to introduce an opt-in annual charge for garden-waste collection – something East Herts councillors voted against at a meeting for all members. But problems in North Herts have continued, long after Urbaser said these data issues were resolved.

On Friday, Urbaser issued a statement in which it pledged “increased resources” for brown bin and food waste collections, a temporary extra crew to catch up with the number of missed rounds, and additional staff for the call centre.

It added that it had “carried out ongoing meetings with the workforce and union to minimise some employment-related issues”, and was bringing in a “regular presence from the Urbaser senior management team to ensure issues are being swiftly resolved”.

Urbaser operations chief Jose Sanchez earlier this month apologised to North Herts District Council on behalf of Urbaser, and told councillors he was taking personal responsibility for delivering the plan.