A joint sickness pilot project, between Veolia and UNISON union at its Southwark depot looks set to ward off serious industrial disruption, despite the GMB branch at the depot voting for a strike.
UNISON, which is the largest and recognised union at Veolia’s Southwark depot, brokered the pilot programme with the contractor after it attempted to bring in new and controversial sickness policy changes.
Veolia holds the contract for refuse collection for a number of local authorities, including Southwark.
A joint statement on behalf of the UNISON and the refuse contractor states: “The 2015 sickness triggers will remain in place, respecting the local recognition agreement with Southwark UNISON and local management discretion, whilst a pilot project of joint working to examine ways of reducing sickness absence takes place.”
The move allays fears reported by the News last week of disruption to bin collections after members of the GMB union voted for a strike in a row over the sickness policy changes and Christmas working.
The pilot involves surveying staff for their views on causes of absenteeism, sharing data to spot patterns of sickness and a benchmark for abseentism levels between Southwark’s depot and other depots.
However, UNISON branch did not rule out a strike if the controversial changes to sickness policy were brought back onto the table.
Sue Plain, branch secretary of Southwark UNISON, said: “Southwark UNISON has an indicative ballot result strongly supporting industrial action should the new sickness triggers be introduced, and we are protected by a local recognition agreement which was negotiated by the first President of UNISON Micky Bryant.
“Thanks to Micky we have strong industrial relations in Southwark Veolia.
“Southwark UNISON is positive that the research project into sickness absence will lead to improvements without the need for Veolia to implement triggers which are a blunt instrument and a gift to bad managers.”
A Veolia spokesperson said: “Southwark UNISON and Veolia Southwark are working collaboratively on a pilot sickness absence reduction project. We are confident this will have a positive impact on our ongoing discussions with the workforce.”