Waste Disposal Industrial Action

The GMB union has confirmed the end of the waste services dispute in South Tyneside.

The Council and workforce are now working to catch up through a rolling service, with an aim to move back to normal collection patterns by the end of the summer period.


Bin collections

Put out both your grey household and blue recycling bins every day (except Sunday). One will be collected.

Green waste

Residents should put out their green waste bin and leave it out until it is collected. 


Latest statements

19 July 2024: End to Waste Dispute in South Tyneside

3 July 2024: End in sight for Waste Services Strikes

28 June 2024: Strike Action Halted Next Week

View all news about the waste industrial action.


Reduce waste where possible

Please reduce waste as much as possible.

We urge residents to take excess waste and recycling to the Recycling Village

Book a slot at the recycling village

We also have a number of sites located across the borough for residents to take their recycling.


Why did union members decided to strike?

The GMB wished to effect a change in management and advised that industrial action would be taken unless managers are removed, despite GMB recognising that the Council cannot under employment law, and will not, arbitrarily remove people from their roles without just cause. 

Industrial action started in November 2023, before the independent investigation and HR process around the original grievance had even concluded and despite requests from the Council to allow that process to conclude first.

Unions refused to engage with planned ACAS conciliation from December 2023 until March 2024. The ACAS process finally took place at the end of March 2024 and the outcome was the agreed Action Plan.

The GMB re-balloted Members in April 2024 despite the investigation finding no evidence of bullying, and despite an Action Plan and way forward having been agreed.

The ballot was favourable towards strike action and extended the mandate a further 6 months to October 2024.

The GMB balloted again in June 2024 over the "unjust suspension of a GMB elected Representative", a completely separate issue to the matter above. This ballot was inaccurate and entirely misleading. The suspension, pending an HR investigation, was with regards to serious health and safety concerns and was completely unconnected in any way with union duties or activities. The result of this ballot was in favour of strike action; however, no action has been taken in relation to it. The GMB has gone on record to state that "any industrial action related to this dispute would only be triggered if any disciplinary action was taken against our rep by the council." *BBC Online June 2024

When did the strikes take place?

Strikes took place during the following periods:

  • 14 to 17 November 2023
  • 27 to 30 December 2023
  • 9 to 12 January 2024
  • 23 to 26 January 2024
  • 19 to 22 March 2024 
  • 2 to 5 April 2024
  • 1 to 6 May 2024

A strike planned for July 2024 was stood down through positive dialogue.

On non-strike weeks, waste crew operatives took action that goes beyond 'short of strike', which significantly reduced productivity, since November 2023. This action short of strike caused a significant backlog and has hugely impacted the overall delivery of services for many months.

What did the Council do to bring the dispute to an end?

Grievance/ HR 

The original collective grievance, submitted by waste operatives in June 2023, did not actually include any allegations of bullying and mismanagement. The collective grievance specifically cited finishing on time, size of rounds and said that it sought consistency in the way leave was allocated. 

The Council delivered on the promise to conduct an independent investigation as part of its 'Resolving Issues at Work Policy.' This took place in Autumn 2023 and less than one fifth of waste operatives that submitted concerns (10/52) chose to take part in the investigation process. 

The findings of the independent Investigator's report were shared with all Trade Unions representing those involved in the grievance at the end of November 2023.

This independent investigation formed only one part of the overall report into matters raised, aligned to the Council's Resolving Issues at Work Policy. The final report, which is confidential to employees concerned; the unions and the Council, was shared with all parties in January 2024. It is not appropriate to share more widely but did not find any evidence of bullying or harassment of the workforce by management.

The findings of the final report were not challenged. No appeal was pursued by the complainants or the GMB and the grievance was therefore concluded in January 2024.

Workforce engagement 

The Council made a concerted effort to resolve the dispute through extensive engagement with teams, listening and acting upon concerns, including spending time out on the rounds with some crews, talking directly to them and hearing first hand some of the day-to-day challenges they face in delivering the service. 

In addition, the Council increased its direct communication with crews to build trusted relationships and to avoid any potential miscommunication from union representatives. 

ACAS 

ACAS, the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service works with millions of employers and employees every year to improve workplace relationships. It is an independent public body that receives funding from the government. 

GMB and Unite unions chose to withdraw from planned engagement with the ACAS conciliation process, scheduled for Tuesday 5 December 2023, despite making a previous commitment and securing a date to take part. 

Positive ACAS talks in March 2024 resulted in a detailed Action Plan being agreed by all trade unions and the workforce to move forward. 

Despite a successful ACAS process, with a clearly agreed outcome, further strike action took place in May 2024. This was and remains unprecedented that action is called when a solution had been agreed.

The Council has shown its commitment to resolving matters and is already implementing the agreed Action Plan. 

At all times, the Action Plan has been agreed and endorsed as the means of resolving the dispute. The Action Plan is updated weekly and provided to the workforce at regular intervals for information. A fortnightly meeting, chaired by the Director of Place and Communities ensures that the Council is on track with delivery and that any risks to are identified.

Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) 

In May 2024, following further intense negotiation, the GMB trade union agreed to pause industrial action to provide a period of respite and stability and support the delivery of an action plan in line with a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) which was approved and signed by both the Council and GMB on 9 May 2024.

It was agreed that all industrial action, including action short of strike, described by GMB as 'work to rule/safely,' would be stood down and the workforce would return to 'normal and established working practices' from 7 May to allow the Action Plan agreed in April to take effect.

The GMB agreed to stand down all industrial action to allow at least a full 6-8 weeks of uninterrupted service to allow implementation of the Action Plan with a view to long term resolution. The MOU also contained an agreement for "all relevant staff and trade unions" to participate in the agreed Action Plan and contribute to working groups to address workforce concerns around re-balancing of rounds and PPE.

These key areas of the MoU were not upheld by the GMB or workforce.

With crews only completing around 55% of weekly rounds despite additional crews supporting, they did not return to normal ways of working in May 2024. The workforce on instruction from GMB refused to attend meetings of working groups. This refusal to participate in dialogue has prevented progress towards concluding this dispute. Less than 5 weeks into this period of intended stability, in June 2024, the Council received further notice to ballot for more strike action.

The Council therefore wrote to the GMB on 11 June 2024 to confirm that for the reasons set out above, the Council believed without doubt that GMB and its members have committed and continue to commit a number of fundamental breaches of the terms of the MOU, and the Council consequently no longer considered that it is bound by those terms. In short, the terms of the MOU no longer apply.

The Council clearly explained to the GMB that it must be able to provide a complete and efficient waste collection service to the residents of South Tyneside. In light of the multiple and fundamental breaches of the MOU referred to above, in June 2024, the Council confirmed that it would now do everything necessary to reduce the impact and clear the backlogs of work and waste that requires collection as a direct result of the workforce's current working practices and that those behaviours will be appropriately managed.

External challenge 

In addition to ongoing dialogue, the Council invited a Local Government Association/ Association for Public Service Excellence (LGA/APSE) Peer Review team in to evaluate Waste Services in March 2024. The peer review was not an inspection and was a constructive exercise intended to complement the ongoing dialogue with Trade Unions, management and the workforce and provide an understanding for all parties on how other councils operate and share best practice, designed to complement, and add value to a council's own performance and improvement focus. 

The peers used their experience and knowledge of local government to reflect on the information presented to them by people they met, things they saw and material that they read. 

The peer team spoke to around 50 people including a range of council staff and Members. The Action Plan has been developed involving all stakeholders to include key issues that are being addressed, including: 

  • Round rebalancing
  • Replacement of vehicle strategy
  • PPE
  • CCTV policies

The findings of the LGA/APSE Peer review have been shared with all parties and a full report can be found here Local Government Association (LGA) Waste Services Peer Challenge Report - 鶹Ƶ

What contingencies did the Council introduce?

The Council introduced a number of contingency measures over the course of the industrial action including:

  • Increasing capacity and slots available at the Recycling Village
  • The introduction of temporary waste drop-off points (skips)
  • Prioritising general household waste (grey bins)
  • Doubling the number of recycling sites across the Borough
  • Targeting resources to tackle known neighbourhood hot spots