The topic was discussed at a meeting of the joint waste and recycling committee on Friday (January 7), where council representatives of Hastings, Rother and Wealden meet to discuss their shared waste contract.
At the meeting, Hastings councillor Maya Evans, the committee’s chairperson, asked representatives of waste contractor Biffa whether their collections could be subject to strike action over pay, similar to those currently ongoing in Eastbourne.
Cllr Evans said: “My other question is in regards to what is happening in Lewes and Eastbourne at the moment. I’m sure all the councillors are aware that they are having an issue there with their bin collectors going on strike because of their rate of pay.
“Obviously we would want to avoid that at all costs in our joint waste partnership, so I wonder if you could talk a little bit about how much our operatives are paid. Is it the living wage and how does it compare to Lewes and Eastbourne?”
In response Biffa’s Trevor Elliot told councillors that last year’s final pay award had been agreed for staff in Wealden, but negotiations had been delayed elsewhere in the contract area.
He said: “[The pay award] has been accepted by the Wealden branch, which is effectively the Unison union and that has already gone through. This is last year’s pay award, believe it or not.
“There is a little bit of discussion and dialogue going on still between ourselves and the GMB. We deal with the GMB on a national level, so there is the national agreement, however the St Leonards depot sits outside of that, frustratingly.
“But we have a meeting again on Monday, just to get this across the line and then look to negotiating for next year because this is so many months behind.
“The delay has not been caused by us at all. We started negotiating this early in the year, probably back in May. We expected it all to be dealt with in June [but] there was a change in hierarchy within the GMB locally and the negotiations went backwards to be honest.
“But we are proactively working with the GMB and more recently we have had some favourable outcomes.”
He added: “We are managing the situation, let’s put it that way. You can never say never, but alongside yourselves the last thing we want is any action and any disruption to services.”
Mr Elliot added that all Biffa employees are paid above the minimum wage and that the company as a whole was aiming to become a living wage employer by 2023.
The company was also in the process of introducing performance bonuses for staff. This, Mr Elliot said, had been accepted as part of the pay award agreed in Wealden and had been offered as part of negotiations with the GMB as well.