Sickness and low wages at waste plant

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Staff at the district’s £750m waste recycling plant have been suffering from motion sickness caused by working on a conveyor belt.

A council watchdog has been told that the South Kirkby plant, built to process all the district’s rubbish, had recruitment problems after workers suffered from the condition, which has symptoms including dizziness and nausea.

Behind the scenes look of the new �100m one-site waste and recycling facility at South Kirkby, Wakefield, which will divert 95 per cent of waste away from landfill. 'Picture Jonathan Gawthorpe.

Behind the scenes look of the new �100m one-site waste and recycling facility at South Kirkby, Wakefield, which will divert 95 per cent of waste away from landfill. 'Picture Jonathan Gawthorpe.

The waste facility is run by waste company Shanks under a 25-year Private Finance Initiative (PFI) deal with the council.

Minutes from Wakefield Council’s Modern Public Services overview and scrutiny committee said: “There had been a problem with staff turnover, as working on the belt can cause motion sickness.

“Agency staff have been used to fill the gap and will be employed permanently if they perform well. Shanks have a philosophy of growing their own staff from the bottom up.”

The council was also urging better pay rates after it emerged that workers were only paid the minimum wage of £6.60 an hour for people aged over 21 and £5.30 for 18-20-year-olds.

new waste management facility on the old South Kirkby Colliery

new waste management facility on the old South Kirkby Colliery

The UK Living Wage - calculated based on the amount of money needed to live on - is £8.25 per hour.

The scrutiny committee was told: “Shanks pay the minimum wage and although the council is not in a position to change this, its views have been made clear to the company and it continues to encourage them to improve.”

Glynn Humphries, the council’s service director for environment, offered to set up a meeting “specifically to discuss recruitment and to apply further pressure on Shanks.”

When asked about the motion sickness issue, Mr Humphries said: “We are aware that there is a turnover of staff, however this is common with this type of facility. Every effort is made to find suitable staff.”

Shanks declined to comment on how many workers left because of motion sickness, but a spokesperson said staff turnover was in single digits. Workers on the picking lines were paid through an employment agency.

The South Kirkby plant is now fully-operational after a four-month delay caused by a contractor going into administration.

The contractor, Imtech, was the supplier of an anaerobic digestion facility at the plant to turn waste into gas.

Shanks’ half-year accounts revealed that the company had set aside £4.6m to cover “damages on the Wakefield contract”.

Wakefield Council said it would not face any extra costs because of the delay.

Last Tuesday Shanks reported that: “ A concerted team effort from Shanks, its remaining contractors and Wakefield Council has resulted in full service commencing in-line with the revised timing. As a result of entering full service, the exceptional costs incurred will be in-line with previous guidance.”