Union leaders have this afternoon announced plans to hold a strike ballot in a dispute over whether Lynn-based waste workers should wear safety caps and goggles.
Officials from the GMB union have said they will organise a consultative ballot among members employed by Kier Refuse Services, who provide collection services for West Norfolk Council.
The union claims that, by imposing the requirement to bump caps - caps with reinforcement materials included - and goggles as part of their personal protection equipment, the company is actually making their work more dangerous.
Regional organiser Glenn Holdom said: “There is mounting tension around the imposition of wearing bump caps and goggles as part of protective equipment on both these contracts.
“Members are now being targeted for disciplinary action for not wearing the hats and goggles.
“This is despite a strongly worded letter to the company from GMB Health and Safety officer John McClean saying that this equipment is not necessary and also in spite of a collective grievance being raised.
“In the absence of any consultation or agreement with no consideration being given to the impracticalities of wearing this equipment the current position is causing more health and safety issues.
“Rather than make the job safer, by forcing members to wear goggles and caps in this circumstance Kier are making it more dangerous.
“Instead of trying to address the symptoms of a flawed operation in this counterproductive and dangerous way, Kier should talk urgently with GMB about how to deal with the causes which GMB have been trying to do for months.
“Members have had enough and feel they are being treated with contempt. Many of the identified concerns have not been attended to in the last year and their patience has evaporated. A consultative ballot of members on both contracts is currently taking place.
“This is on top of more blatant operational and vehicle issues that are not being attended too.
“There were also a number of aggravating issues on this contract such as round imbalances, increased working hours and level of agency staff being used since the TUPE transfer from Veolia in April 2013.”
It’s the second time in just over a year that services have been threatened with strike action.
Workers voted overwhelmingly to take industrial action in September last year in a dispute over pay, though the walk-out was called off after further talks.
Kier said the union has been consulted on the use of bump caps and goggles and that the number of eye injuries have gone down.
The company’s statement says;“It is extremely disappointing that the GMB is planning a consultative ballot as Kier takes the concern of employee health & safety very seriously and we have robust procedures in place to protect our people and address any concerns.
“The union was fully consulted earlier in the year regarding the use of bump caps and goggles in line with our operational excellence policy, and it was with their agreement that the new standards of protection were implemented to ensure that our people continue to work in a safe environment.
“Since the roll-out eye injuries have been reduced by nearly 50 per cent across the business clearly demonstrating the safety improvements that the use of the new equipment brings to our employees.
“We have met with the GMB on a number of occasions over the last few weeks to discuss issues that the union has raised and which we have responded to, and we are committed to continuing our discussions with them.”