Dustmen compete to give job a lift: Wheelie loaders and drivers take to the streets for the fifth World Refuse Collection Championship

ONCE the seafront was a venue for pram races run by women in long skirts. Yesterday's contestants at Worthing, West Sussex, were men in T-shirts with bouncing stomachs pushing wheelie dustbins.

The World Refuse Collection Championship, now in its fifth year, had 39 teams from Britain and Wales in a dustman's holiday.

Teams of four loaders and one driver competed in a relay. Each member took their turn to drive the lorry, drag two 240-litre wheelies and one 1,100-litre Eurobin full of stones.

Technique as well as fitness and strength is essential, Barry Jackson, a former Olympic 400m runner and trainer of the team from Hinckley, Leicestershire, said. 'The secret lies in finding the quickest most reliable method of grabbing the wheelies and then running,' he said. The competition is run by Worthing council and ECCO, an employment agency. Nigel Seys Phillips, managing director of the agency, said: 'It is a good way for dustmen to demonstrate the skills they have.'

Brian, a bulk-clearance worker for Onyx of Camden, London, who has worked for 25 years on the dust, was sceptical. 'No skills are needed for the job,' he said. 'My daughter of eight could do it.'

Five years ago dustmen prided themselves in their technique: a metal dustbin would be lifted on to the knee, grabbed from the bottom with one hand, then flicked in one sweep onto the shoulder. Now wheelies are hauled up by a machine. Dustmen complain their stomachs are turning to flab.

One dustman said: 'We are put under huge pressure to meet deadlines otherwise we may lose our bonus. The cameraderie found five years ago has been broken - teams have been reduced from five to three and contact with residents is sporadic: there is no more rummaging in people's backyards, no time for quick cups of tea.'

But Brian McCann, a Hinckley supporter, disagreed: 'Dustmen take pride in their work now, they are no longer perceived as layabouts. You can see this in the race. The men are here to win.' The winning team works for Fosca, contractors for Droitwich council in Worcestershire.

(Photograph omitted)