GROUNDS workers at Solihull Council have to continue to work with ‘few social distancing measures in place’, their trade union says.
Despite neighboring councils all suspending grounds maintenance work, Solihull Council is continuing with grass verge and hedge cutting.
Representatives of the council staff on the GMB have condemned managers who are working from home, while maintenance crews are told to report for work as normal.
They say Solihull should change maintenance to ‘non-essential work’, and order its contractor Amey to stop crews goong out in the community and allow them to join the government’s furlough retention scheme.
The union claimed a leading council officer had told a representative that forcing workers to work during the lockdown gives ‘a perception of safety’.
Birmingham City Council, Sandwell Council and Telford & Wrekin have all decided to stop non-essential grounds maintenance work, given the governemtn advice to ‘stay at home’ during the coronavirus pandemic.
Michelle Harris, GMB Organiser, said: “While most of managers are working from home, Solihull Council are forcing some of their lowest-paid workers out on the streets to cut grass, trim hedges and blow leaves.
“There is little protective equipment and few social distancing measures have been put in place. It’s needlessly putting workers’ lives, and the lives of their families, at risk.
“Does Solihull Council really value the groundskeeping over the lives of its groundskeepers?”
“The heroes in our health service need local government to do everything they can to help stop the spread of Coronavirus. Solihull Council is sitting on its hands when we need them most.
“We’ve made it clear that our ground maintenance workers need to be either moved to key work, where good practices are in place, or furloughed immediately. We will not tolerate our members’ health being put at unnecessary risk because the council failed to act in a global pandemic.”
Responding, a Solihull Council spokesperson said: “We understand that people may be concerned about the continuation of some services in public areas such as grounds maintenance and grass cutting. We would like to reassure residents that we are operating a reduced service and while doing so, insisting our contractors follow the appropriate government guidelines regarding keeping their staff members safe.
“We are keeping this situation under regular review with our contractors.
“We are proud of the appearance of our borough and it is important that we try to keep our public spaces clean, tidy and presentable for all our communities and our local environment.
“The presence of these workers also helps to promote a feeling of community safety at a very uncertain time for all. They can also play an important part in being on the lookout for vulnerable people in our borough, who need help the most.”