Union warns South Tyneside bin strike could be 'indefinite' as bitter row continues

Rubbish piling up in the street in South Shields during the South Tyneside bin strikes.
-Credit: (Image: Chronicle Live)

The South Tyneside bin strikes that have caused huge disruption to services across the borough could continue "indefinitely" the GMB trade union has warned.

The dispute concerns allegations of harassment and bullying - and "operational issues". While the council has hit out at workers breaching agreements. It has seen six previous periods of strike action and gone on since late 2023. The union said the council had chosen to suspend 10% of its refuse collection workforce.

GMB officials said a vote on whether to take continuous industrial action - over "trade union discrimination" was now under way. The union said its workplace representative had been suspended, along with other active union members.

The union also said workers continued to be "ignored" by the council. This comes after the row escalated earlier this week when the union accused the council of "denouncing the workforce" in a statement.

The new strike ballot will run until June 14, with the union warning this raises the prospect of strikes during the General Election campaign period.

Mark Wilson, GMB regional organiser, said: "Refuse workers in South Tyneside are at the end of their tether. This situation should have been sorted nine months ago.

"We are in this situation because council management thought suspending workers was a better idea than listening to their concerns. A blatant case of trade union victimisation. Any future disruption is entirely their doing. And is within their power to stop."

The row earlier this week came after the council released a statement saying how their bin collection crews were "almost a week behind" because they were "not working as normal". The council claimed this was in "contravention" of a memorandum of understanding agreed after the last active bin strikes.

The council's statement continued: "We recognise that our residents are completely fed up and frustrated and we thank them for their ongoing patience. For many residents, disposal of household waste is their number one priority Council service, and we acknowledge wholeheartedly that the service they are currently receiving is well below that which they should expect. We have stressed to the GMB the need for them to work with the crews and the council to get the service back on track for our residents."

However the GMB union disputes this and said it was "shocked and surprised" by the comments, adding: ""No industrial action of any kind has taken place for weeks. Any ongoing collection issues are down to the mismanagement of the service, mismanagement that the GMB have been highlighting for over a year."

South Tyneside Council have refuted the claims by GMB.

A spokesperson said: “Whilst it is correct that a GMB workplace representative has been suspended, pending a HR investigation, this is with regards to serious health and safety concerns. This is completely unconnected in any way with union duties or activities as the GMB suggest. The GMB’s understanding and portrayal of the position is both inaccurate and misleading."

They continued: “The council has not ignored the workforce as the GMB suggest, far from it, we have undergone a period of intense engagement over the last nine months which has been well documented and can be viewed in full on the council’s website."

They added that the council has been working to deliver the detailed Action Plan agreed with trade unions.

They concluded: “South Tyneside Council is calling on the GMB to withdraw the ballot immediately because it is at odds with the factual position. It is unjust, inaccurate and entirely misleading and further strike action would be inexcusable.”