‘It’s been tiring and stressful – but it’s nice to be appreciated’

We sometimes forget how important bin collections are to our national health. Without regular collections we’d see a huge increase in vermin and disease.

It’s not something we want at the best of times, but with our NHS under unprecedented pressures, many have rediscovered the importance of our refuse collectors.

Mark Pavitt is one of them. He drives a refuse lorry and loads sacks for Basildon Council.

“Most of the public have been great,” he told UNISON Eastern, “offering cold drinks, clapping and there has been a lot of children drawing pictures for us.

“It’s nice to be appreciated.”

But with the plaudits has come extra work.

“Since the lockdown there has been an increase in rubbish to collect as there are more people at home having clear outs and decorating.”

It can be “very tiring and stressful,” he says, as the extra demand had led to longer hours and more loads than normal.

And there’s still the problem of personal protective equipment and social distancing.

“We have no issues with our normal PPE — we’ve had the same gloves, boots, needle-proof trousers and high-visibility jackets for many years — but there is no protection from the virus while working.

“We still need to take our gloves off and on and hand sanitiser is the only protection once inside the lorry.”

UNISON has agreed guidance with national local government employers, which states clearly that social distancing rules must be adhered to in council vehicles.

It is up to employers to find solutions to avoid having more than two people in a cab, some are sending people in

While Mark and his colleagues have been putting in the extra hours and work, their national employers have made their ‘final’ pay offer for this year’s pay round: 2.75%.

“It’s not enough,” says Mark.

“Our pay rises have not matched inflation for many years now.

“We are being classed as front-line workers in a critical service but we’re not getting the pay to match it.”