As the Corona (Corvid-19) virus has spread it has become the main issue of concern in our workplaces.
The main responsibility for dealing with the virus lies with the UK Government and national and regional agencies. But Barnet UNISON believes, along with the rest of the Trade Union movement, that unions and employers, working together, can make a significant difference to ensure that the effects of the outbreak are minimised.
Over the last few weeks Barnet UNISON have been trying to engage with Barnet Council about the Corona Virus. We want to work with the Council in a cooperative way to inform and protect our members, other colleagues and the public, so that measures taken in response to the virus are appropriate, sufficient, and fairly applied. We also believe that working this way will help prevent irresponsible behaviour and panic.
UNISON members have raised their concerns with us on obtaining information on the level of risk, the lack of precautionary measure such as sanitisers at some work sites, and the repercussions of not being at work because of illness, self-isolation or other result of the outbreak.
The Council have been relaying information from the Government, the NHS and Public Health England on the intranet or through work emails, but not all Barnet workers have easy access to these, and are missing important communications. Further guidance specific to our workplaces is also needed.
The Council have tried to supply sanitisers and wipes, but they have informed that we problems with supply of these items have proved a major obstacle. At a service and local level some mangers and staff have been procuring items for the protection of colleagues, but UNISON hold that these should have been planned for and provided at the Council Corporate level before now.
In response to our members concerns we have raised a number of issues with the Council. These include
- Guidance and information
- Provision of protectionary items and procedures
- Risk Assessments
- Specific arrangements for colleagues at greater risk from the virus such as those over 65 or those with underlying health problems.
- Procedures for Council buildings open to the public
- Actions to take at worksites if people with confirmed cases of the virus have visited or worked there.
- Procedures for Home visits to service users
- Sick Leave
- Working from home
- Absence reporting
- Service cover for high levels of absence
- School closures and child care responsibilities
- Appraisal targets and deadlines
At the time of writing we still await a full response from the Council and but have been informed that the issues will be discussed at meeting next week. Barnet UNISON welcome this but such discussion and information should have already been provided. But we hope that this signals the Council’s willingness to truly engage with UNISON and the other trade unions in protecting the health of our colleagues and the public.
In the meantime please use the following links to get further information on the Corona Virus.
If you have concerns or questions please contact your local UNISON reps, or the Branch at
The Corona virus requires a collective response. Acting together to protect ourselves is the cornerstone of trade unionism. Working together and looking out for our colleagues, friends, family, service users and the wider community will be a major factor in reducing the damage caused by the virus. Selfish individualist actions, such as panic buying, profiteering on in-demand items or stealing sanitisers from work places threaten all of us, including those committing these acts.
Stay safe, stay healthy.
Branch Health & Safety Officer/Libraries Convenor
Tel: 0208 359 2088
Barnet Council have commissioned “an independent evaluation of recent changes to the library service and to make some recommendations for the future.” (https://www.barnet.gov.uk/libraries-0)
The Company undertaking the review have asked Barnet UNISON and a sample of Library staff for their views. We welcome this engagement with Library workers.
We hope that the review will be fair and evidence based, and that the Council have made the necessary information and evidence available to the reviewing organisation. This must include comparable statistics on the use of libraries in staffed and unstaffed hours and include the four Libraries outsourced in 2017.
The findings of the review should be published in March and Barnet UNISON will make a full response at that time.
This time last year we were in the fourth week of the Bin Collection changes. Barnet UNISON bin workers already knew that the changes would not work. But it had been made very clear that the views of the workforce were not seen as important to the successful delivery of the service.
How wrong was that?
By Christmas 2018 the collection was in chaos as this is one of the busiest times of the year for Bin collections.
UNISON suggested a way out but we were ignored.
In 2019 bin workers were scratching their heads wondering where all the money was coming from to pay the ever growing army of agency workers. A service that started at 6 am and finished by 2pm was now running up until 11 pm at night.
But every time UNISON asked about the rounds we were told it’s just “teething problems” and “things will soon be sorted.”
In 2019, at various Council Committees, councillors started to try to get a grip of what was going on as the agency spend continued to climb and fall then climb again. Sitting in the stalls listening to officers and councillors was something to behold, hardly anything discussed seemed to reflect what our bin worker members were telling UNISON.
After years of representing workers in Barnet Council UNISON is used to being ignored but in the case of the bin service it was still astounding that no one seemed to be able to sort out what was all so apparent to the bin workers.
Then we had the “sliding depot” or the “crack” as it was called in the depot. UNISON watched in bewilderment as the crack got longer, wider and deeper. The road was so bad the vehicles had to drive really really slowly just in case they tipped over.
Obviously someone in the summer managed to convince the Council that there was a serious Health and Safety risk and that the idea of part of the depot sliding down on to Oakleigh Road South was suddenly unpalatable.
Here was an opportunity for the Council to put things right for Barnet residents. The depot is severely constrained by having half of it cordoned off for major building works that were bound to impact on the bin collection service.
“Here was an opportunity for Bin Collection change 2.0”
UNISON bin workers would say “Tear up the crazy area collection proposals” and organise meetings with the bin worker drivers who know the borough streets intimately to help sort out bin collection routes that will work.
UNISON seized on this opportunity to help; after all there was new management in after the departure of two senior managers. We hoped for a change. We said we would help get drivers to help sort the mess out.
More of the same. The recent changes to the bin collection service that have moved some rounds to a Saturday took place without consultation with drivers. Early feedback from our members is that things are not going as well as hoped and still the spend on agency continues.
Last week UNISON heard that staff were being pulled for not completing rounds.
Barnet UNISON has made it clear to the Council that they will countenance no blame on our members for being unable to make something that is fundamentally flawed work well for residents.
You couldn’t make this up but it is true.
With all the changes of managers and a depot that is falling apart our amazingly loyal bin workers on whom we all rely, still come into to do a difficult dirty job on low pay.
Don’t blame them for the changes – those decisions were made by others.
On Monday 18 November 2019 building works begin at the purpose built depot.
“There may be disruption to bin collection services while we carry out urgent work at Oakleigh Depot which is where our recycling and waste services are mainly run from.
Urgent work is being carried out to fix the issue of the ground movement, so that we can continue to run services safely from the depot.
Recycling and refuse collections may take place later into the day up until 10pm.”
Basically a large section of road in the depot over 200 metres or more is at risk of sliding down the hill into Oakleigh Road South.
Barnet UNISON members have been raising serious concerns about the land movement for almost 18 months. It is disappointing that the concerns of the workforce and the trade unions were ignored and now the damage requires a serious engineering intervention that will take up to six months to complete.
Today Friday 15 November 2019, Barnet UNISON has not had a single risk assessment about the major building works that are due to start on Monday. The depot is already under pressure due to the subsidence which makes traffic movement a critical risk. We have had ongoing problems with lighting in the mornings and serious concerns about the state of the Brogans site for the vehicles. It is clear the haste to move into Brogans without making it fit for purpose is being made at the expense of the health and safety of our members.
Request after request have been submitted requesting the risks assessments none have been made available.
The following Health and Safety legislation applies has been ignored:
Safety Representatives and Safety Committees Regulations, 1977.Regulation 7
Inspection of documents and provision of information.
(1) Safety representatives shall for the performance of their functions under section 2(4) of the 1974 Act and under these Regulations, if they have given the employer reasonable notice, be entitled to inspect and take copies of any document relevant to the workplace or to the employees the safety representatives represent which the employer is required to keep by virtue of any relevant statutory provision within the meaning of section 53(1) of the 1974 Act except a document consisting of or relating to any health record of an identifiable individual.
Barnet UNISON: Fail
Health and Safety at Work Act, 1974
2 (6) It shall be the duty of every employer to consult any such representatives with a view to the making and maintenance of arrangements which will enable him and his employees to co-operate effectively in promoting and developing measures to ensure the health and safety at work of the employees, and in checking the effectiveness of such measures.
Barnet UNISON: Fail
Safety Representatives and Safety Committees Regulations, 1977. Regulation 4A
(1) Without prejudice to the generality of section 2(6) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, every employer shall consult safety representatives in good time with regard to – (a) the introduction of any measure at the workplace which may substantially affect the health and safety of the employees the safety representatives concerned represent;
Barnet UNISON: Fail
In light of the above Barnet UNISON has no option but to escalate this matter in order that our members are safe at work.
If you are a Barnet UNISON member working at the Depot and have any questions or concerns please ring our Barnet UNISON office on 0208 359 2088 or email email@example.com
Last week staff working for Barnet Homes were informed that the Housing Options service would not be moving to Colindale.
This is a sensible decision. This service is probably the most high profile and potentially volatile work environment. Due to the brutal crushing impact of austerity those who need this service have often been refused access to services. They are desperate and very vulnerable. Last year we had a fatality. It was a tragedy and it had a profound impact on many of the staff who were working there that day. This is a service that need space for residents and their families to be able to speak to staff in a safe environment.
The space allocated at Colindale was never going to be suitable.
For the time being the service is remaining at Barnet House in which case it does need some money spent on it to make it a better environment for all that use and or work there.
Last Monday all of the Waste and Recycling service started from Oakleigh depot. Due to a serious strategic mistake Barnet Council sold off their own depot which was based in the centre of the borough (Mill Hill) before they had secured an alternative.
As a result a small depot was built in Oakleigh Road South (east of the borough). This depot was not big enough which meant that Barnet Council had go to cap in hand to Harrow Council to pay to base some of their services from their depot.
Workers couldn’t believe it. They shook their heads in disbelief but then just got on with the job.
The costs of operating out of the depot have become a burden that can no longer be sustained and Barnet UNISON welcomes the attempt to re-unite what was previously united.
Barnet Council is now using the former Brogans depot for the extra vehicles.
Why the red card?
Early in September Barnet UNISON reported that the lighting was not working in the depot. It seems to take forever to get things fixed in the depot. This is not a criticism of the operational management as the estate service is run by Capita.
As the date of the move back from Harrow drew close Barnet UNISON again pressed for the lighting to be fixed. The extra vehicles increased our anxiety of the risk to the health and safety of our members.
It is important to remember that the existing site is about to become a building site as urgent engineer works are about to start to stop the depot sliding down the hill into Oakleigh Road South. This means the traffic management is under increased pressure.
On Monday 4 November I was sent pictures by our members to confirm that lighting was not on. It was predictable but UNISON hoped that this time things might change.
Day after day UNISON was contacted all week, five days in a row lighting problems down the depot.
On Friday UNISON spoke with operational management to say that this could not continue and that measures must be put in place to secure the health and safety of the depot.
Barnet UNISON has attended the Committee meetings where the Capita contract was reviewed. For a short period the Estate function was down to come back in-house. However, in December 2018 Barnet Council once again let Capita off the hook.
Barnet UNISON is demanding the Estate service is brought back in-house our staff health and safety must not be compromised.
Barnet UNISON will never understand how a major strategic decision like moving the Council depot was made without a viable option was available to the Council frontline services.
What happened was a classic fudge/ad hoc/make do. To put it simply it has been a disaster.
The Waste and Recycling and Street Cleansing services were split between the new depot in Oakleigh Road South and London Borough of Harrow depot.
Not only was it bad operationally it was expensive and the ongoing costs have been a constant strain on the service.
The Gritting service was also moved to Harrow and we all know what happened when we had a bad winter two years ago despite the heroic efforts of the workforce to try and make it work.
It was never going to work. The staff across all services have tried their best to make it work. The fact that staffing budgets were also cut simply added to the problem. .
What didn’t help and still doesn’t help is seeing that the Capita contracts have cashed in to the tune of £438 million since the contract started which is £165.6 million more than the contract value. Try explaining that to workers whose pay or pensions has been messed up by Capita or to the staff working at Oakleigh who have seen their branch new depot splitting like it has been hit by a minor earth quake.
What is the good news?
The good news is that the Brogans site which has been empty for a long time has been secured by Barnet Council.
This means the whole of the Waste and Recycling service is now running out of Oakleigh Depot. However we are still running Street Cleansing out of Harrow which means we are still paying rent on the Harrow site and now the Brogans site.
Depot Building works
The depot has some serious problems the subsidence has split the road and there appears to be real risk of a landslide which is something that has happened in the past. This risk was clearly sufficiently serious for the Council to arrange for buildings works to begin sometime in November this year.
As a result of the major building works at the depot there is an impact on the Bin collection service. Barnet Council has written to residents about the changes.
It is disappointing that the changes had not been run by the drivers. This mistake was made with the previous Bin collection changes.
There is nothing we can do now.
It remains to be seen if the proposed changes will work.