BIN collections could be further affected if Wrexham Council need staff to grit and clear roads this winter, councillors have been told.
The council is currently embroiled in a pay dispute which has seen refuse collections hampered in recent weeks, and this looks set to rumble on with an agreement still to be reached with the union Unite.
It has led to fears this could impact the authority’s duty to keep the roads safe during the winter months being aired at a meeting of the council’s environment scrutiny committee.
Officers and lead member Rossett Cllr Hugh Jones (Con) were keen to assure councillors that winter maintenance would be prioritised – but this could mean bin collections continue to be disrupted.
Bronington and Hanmer Cllr Jeremy Newton (Con) said: “I have a concern over the gritting and any effects the current strike by Unite could cause.
“If we have a cold snap between now and November 24, what assurances can you give us that the gritters will be able to get out of Abbey Road (depot) to get the roads and lanes gritted?”
Highways officer Huw ap Dewi said the service would be delivered.
“When it comes to anything where there is a critical service that needs to be delivered and there are safety concerns, we are allowed to grit as usual and we have been sending out teams”, he said.
“Say we’ve had an emergency on the road where there has been a considerable surface defect and this was before we were able to send out our waste operatives, protestors and picketers did allow us to go out so we don’t have any concerns about any of the vehicles.
“We also have enough drivers in place now who are currently starting the last few weeks of their training ready for winter maintenance.
“The only thing we’d have to bear in mind is we do have the drivers available to carry out the gritting, however this may have an effect on some of our abilities to deliver waste services because we’ve got to prioritise the safety of road users.”
Queensway Cllr Carrie Harper (Plaid) said she had concerns that trained staff taking part in action would not be allowed to be trained on and operate gritters.
She said: “My understanding is there was an agreement between Unite and the council that those workers on strike would come in if there were emergencies and that included an exemption for those workers to undertake training in relation to winter maintenance.
“Despite that agreement workers on strike were initially told they wouldn’t be able to come in for winter maintenance training and they wouldn’t be put on the rota which runs until April as well.
“I understand they have had some basic training over the last few days but they’ve not had the full training package and still not had confirmation they’ll be put on the winter maintenance rota.”
Cllr Harper added: “If they’re not put on the rota, obviously that’s got a significant impact on those workers financially and it also has an impact on council finances if we have to pay for other staff to step in.
“It could also potentially be a serious public safety issue as well, if we have a bad winter, we could have a shortfall of trained drivers if they don’t get that training so that would impact on the 12 gritters and gulley cleaners as well.”
Lead member for the environment Cllr Jones said he understood all staff operating equipment are “fully and appropriately trained to the necessary standard” and able to meet statutory requirements for keeping the highways safe, but there would be a knock-on effect for bin collections.
He added: “We would not send an operative out to do a particular task if they hadn’t received the appropriate level of safety training. That training will be given as appropriate to the task they’re being asked to do.”
“I can assure the committee only operatives appropriately and effectively trained will be allowed to operate equipment. I will give you that assurance.”
But this response did not pacify other councillors who sought more clarity.
Acrefair North Cllr Paul Blackwell (Lab) said: “I’m not happy with the response there.
“It’s very clear really. Are we allowing striking workers to drive gritting lorries?
“We’ve had no clarification on this, we’ve had a fudge of an answer. Unite are saying they are not allowed to drive gritting lorries and we just want some clarification on that.”
A recommendation put forward by Cllr Harper was that striking workers be offered full winter training and will be added to the winter maintenance rota to enable the service to be delivered.
This was backed by the scrutiny committee.