'We may privatise Leeds sicknote bin staff'

THE bin service in Leeds could be privatised, council leader Richard Brett said today.

Coun Brett said the council might be pushed into outsourcing the service in a bid to make it "value for money".

He condemned sky-high sickness levels of 30 days a year and accused bin workers of fiddling to maximise overtime.

He outlined how workers call in sick, allowing colleagues who were due to have a day off to be asked to work and earn overtime, which is time-and-a-half.

Speaking to the YEP at the Lib Dem conference, he said: "We sadly believe that the high sickness is linked to getting overtime.

"You work four days, you are then off the rota but if a mate who is rotaed for your first off day rings in sick, you get rung up to say 'will you cover?'"

The sickness rate means refuse collectors "only work 11 months a year", although the one month of the year when attendance is "excellent" is December, he said.

"I think you could work out that the bin collection teams are in a habit of expecting from the people of Leeds some Christmas bonus during December," he added.

Coun Brett blamed the unions for blocking changes to make the city's 37 bin rounds more efficient.

He said some crews went home early after finishing their round at 1pm, while others worked beyond 4pm and earned over-time.

"The rational thing to do is equalise the rounds. The unions have opposed previous attempts to do that, to get these efficiencies there.

"Their reason for doing that, although they won't be up front about it, is that it keeps them more overtime."

The YEP revealed earlier this week how strike-breaking private contractors were poised to empty bins in Leeds once a fortnight.

At least 20 vehicles from a private firm have been collecting non-recylcable rubbish in recent days.

But for the first time Coun Brett suggested that the end result of the bitter dispute could be full privatisation.

He said: "We may be in a sense being pushed by this action into more seriously considering the very thing that the strikers say they don't want – the outsourcing of the service, the privatising of the service.

"We are only a few days into some private sector crews doing the job, I have already had some reports of people saying 'This is better than what we had before'.

"They are not only wheeling the bins out, they are wheeling them back properly and the normal crews don't do that.

"I had not gone into this with a privatisation agenda. Mine is not a Thatcherite agenda.

"They are our workers, they are our staff. But if they are going to be badged with Leeds City Council they have got to be working efficiently," he said.

Bin crews and street cleansing staff began their strike on September 7 over a proposed pay and grading structure that unions claim would cut some collectors' pay by up to 6,000 per year from February 2011.


Library image of the skyline of the City of London Photo: Chris Radburn/PA Wire

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