Key workers have kept our communities running and safe during the coronavirus lockdown. UNISON Cymru Wales caught up with Richard Brace, a refuse collector in Neath Port Talbot to find out how he has been working.
Richard, tell us about your job during the pandemic
I’m a refuse worker. I drive the lorry and help out loading the bins or recycling into the lorry.
I’m also a UNISON rep and I’ve been answering loads of questions from staff and members who are worried about their health and safety. I’ve put forward ideas to our health and safety rep Leigh Batchelor (who I have to say, has done a fantastic job when our branch chair was in hospital with Covid-19) about how we can better protect staff and those things have now come into practice.
The amount of refuse and recycling we are picking up during the lockdown feels like our rounds at Christmas. Our loads are so much heavier; it’s double the work because everyone’s stuck at home having a clear out.
At the beginning of the lockdown, people were a lot more worried. There are always concerns about cross-contamination with the refuse you’re picking up and the chance you might take home the virus to your own family. Members of the public don’t always inform the council if they are self-isolating and showing signs of having Covid-19 in their household and we are collecting their refuse with used tissues or whatever, so you have to be careful.
Now the crews are more used to what is going on and are feeling a little more comfortable. Neath Port Talbot Council (NPT) has taken a lot of precautions, with face masks and hand sanitisers, showers etc. They have split crews from three in a lorry down to two in a van which is following the two in a lorry. There are now also screen dividers in the cabs. We’ve been given everything we need.
What’s your view of how public service workers have responded to the crisis?
Council workers have been brilliant! In the main, we’ve taken it in our stride. You might have expected a lot to panic but everyone has been working through.
I would say workers at NPT have been fantastic. We are all doing out bit. Some have been redeployed and you’ve got others who are volunteering to make and deliver food parcels and others redeployed to hospitals.
Council workers have stepped up to the challenge and continue to do so on a daily basis.
What’s your message to the government?
Council workers must be recognised as key workers as well. NHS staff and care workers are doing a fantastic job! In my opinion, we are unsung key workers. If it wasn’t for us there would be another health crisis with waste left on streets. I would say to government, make the Covid-19 testing available for all key workers all across the UK.
How are you going to celebrate the end of the lockdown?
I’m going to get a real haircut.
I want to spend the day somewhere with the family so the kids can play and I can spend some time with my partner in peace and quiet and I would like to have a drink.
Probably in that order!