Dustmen sacked over tip request: Complaint by councillor over Christmas box leads to 70 dismissals

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The Independent Online
A REQUEST for a dustman's 'Christmas box' in one of the wealthiest areas in Britain yesterday led to the mass dismissal of a council's refuse collectors.

All 70 dustmen in the Tory-controlled London borough of Kensington and Chelsea were sacked. They had refused to go out on their rounds yesterday until they received an explanation for the dismissal of a crew of four men, one of whom had called at a councillor's house to solicit a seasonal tip.

Leaders of the Transport and General Workers' Union yesterday said the 70 workers would present themselves for work today, although the council understood that if necessary the service could be maintained by managers and employees of other agencies.

The dustman concerned, Alex Atiko, 30, had been sacked before Christmas and then reinstated after the councillor, who lived in one of the most expensive areas of Chelsea, said that while she disapproved of dustmen asking for tips, she did not want to see the man dismissed. Three other complaints were received from the area.

Yesterday, however, dustmen turned up to find that not only had Mr Atiko been dismissed once more, but so had his colleagues.

Tom Douras, the union's senior official for public services in south-east England, believes the council must have put pressure on BFI Wastecare, the refuse collection contractors, to get rid of the crew. 'Our works committee wanted the company to follow the normal disputes procedure. They were not going to be treated like pigs or dogs.'

Mr Douras said that while his members would receive full legal backing, the union would prefer it if the dispute could be settled through negotiation. 'We just want to get the lads back to work. If they try to run the service with managers and agency people it will be a shambles. Our lads will turn up for work tomorrow and we've told them not do anything stupid.

'They've been crapped on from a great height, but we're not talking about revolutionary socialists, we're talking about ordinary blokes who want a peaceful life. No one wants to see old ladies intimidated for tips, but that didn't happen. The council has over- reacted.'

A spokesman for Kensington and Chelsea, who refused to identify the councillor who complained, said that the disciplinary action was not the council's responsibility. 'We were aware of the complaints about dustmen knocking on doors and we asked the company to bring it to a halt.

'We don't mind them getting tips if they do a good enough job, but the contract expressly forbids employees to solicit gratuities. We didn't ask for them to dismiss anyone.'

Phil Morris, operations director of the company, said he hoped to resolve the dispute this morning and that agency staff would not be brought in pending the result of the negotiations.