GMB calls for Wiltshire Council Chief to visit Hills depot during strike over safety concern

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Visit the picket line and see for yourself says GMB in a letter to cabinet lead for waste management [1]. No one ever has a right to drive a truck into a pedestrian 

GMB, the union for refuse and recycling workers in Wiltshire, has written to the Wiltshire Council cabinet lead for waste management offering to accompany him to the picket lines so he can see for himself the public safety dangers of trucks hitting pedestrians.  

GMB members working for Hills in Wiltshire are currently taking part in a 2 week strike over pay. 

The union has already proposed a joint statement with Dr Mark McClelland calling for mutual respect and safety at the gates of Hills depots during the strikes after GMB members were allegedly struck by bin lorries [2].   

Andy Newman, GMB branch secretary, said:  

“We don’t believe that the Wiltshire Council cabinet lead, Dr Mark McClellan, fully understands what is happening at the picket lines, as he not been down there to see for himself.  

“We have had instances of bin lorries hitting pedestrians, which is incredibly dangerous and under the Highway Code a heavy truck always has lower priority than a pedestrian. It makes no difference in the law whether that pedestrian is a picket or a protestor.  

“I have offered to accompany him to the picket lines and I can guarantee he will be treated with respect.  

“We live in a democracy, and union members have a right to peacefully protest. In contrast, no one ever has a right to drive a truck into a pedestrian, even when the driver is perhaps frustrated that the pedestrian is in their way.  

“There are Government guidelines on how pickets should conduct themselves. GMB is both professional and experienced, the Hills strikers are behaving within the law and are good humoured and responsible. Striking workers have the same rights to peaceful civil protest as any other citizen  

“Cllr Dr Mark McClelland is a public figure and a senior, elected civic leader. I hope he will join with me in calling for truck drivers to obey the Highway Code and observe the law in the interests of public safety.  

“If Dr McClelland is unsure what is happening at the depot gates, I am giving him the opportunity to come down with me, and see for himself.”  


[1] Letter sent from GMB branch secretary Andy Newman to Wiltshire Council Cabinet member on 13th March  

Dear Cllr Dr McClelland   

Thank you for your letter dated 10th March 2022, and the time that you took to consider my email to you.   

Regrettably, I feel that your response indicates that you have not yet appreciated the public safety risks, and I understand that you have not yet visited the depot gates to see for yourself, which may colour your understanding. I would be very happy to accompany you on a fact-finding visit to the Hills depots’ gates so that you can make an independent judgement.   

My offer to go with you is to allay any apprehension that you may have. I personally guarantee that you would be treated with respect, and that the scope of your visit would be limited to the issue of safety. Whilst you do not know me personally, I am sure that Michelle Donelan would vouch to you that I can be trusted: in a different capacity to my union offices, I stood against Ms Donelan for parliament twice, in 2015 and 2017. Nor would it be particularly unusual for a politician to visit a strike, you may recall the then Lord Chancellor, Robert Buckland, visiting a picket line of striking journalists in Swindon in 2018.   

Before I continue, I wish to make clear that I do not consider it to have been inappropriate for me to speak to the press about my earlier email to you. Press scrutiny is just part of the routine knockabout of public life: we are both public figures, and I was seeking to gain a wider public hearing for my call for calm and safety.   

With regard to the issue of the picketing guidelines, I would observe that as you have not personally visited the gates during the dispute you are relying upon partial information, and should that information have come from Hills, then it is not from an impartial source.   

GMB is the third largest union in Britain, and we are fully conversant with the picketing guidelines. As I am sure you appreciate, what matters with guidelines in English law is how those guidelines are interpreted by practitioners, the police and the courts. In this regard, as experienced practitioners GMB have, I am sure, a better understanding of the law than either Wiltshire Council, or Hills.   

Hills staff participating in the strikes are good humoured and peaceful. Pickets are entitled to seek to speak to workers who have not joined the strike, and to seek to persuade them to join the strike. If those workers are in vehicles, then it is legitimate to seek to stop the vehicles in order to engage them in conversation. For the avoidance of doubt, the experienced, professional judgement of GMB is that these pickets are within the framework of the current guidelines, and GMB members are not only acting lawfully, but responsibly.   

Naturally, in a democracy with the civil freedoms that we enjoy in the UK, the exercise of democratic rights by some citizens may occasionally have an unfortunate detrimental effect on other citizens. This aspect of the law relating to industrial disputes was given an exhaustive examination by Bruce Carr QC in his independent report commissioned for David Cameron’s government, published in October 2014. The Carr report concluded that many trade union activities, such as protests outside the premises where industrial action is in progress, cannot be meaningfully unpacked from the wider democratic rights to peaceful protest, enjoyed by lobbying organisations across the political spectrum.    

In practice, the policing of industrial disputes in the modern era reflects the view that pickets are analogous to any other form of civil protest. In your letter you wrongly state that the pickets at Hills have seen a number of arrests. This is inaccurate, on one occasion, following what we understand was an approach to police from Hills management, a GMB organiser was briefly detained, but once the police on the ground had taken guidance from their superiors, the individual was released without charge.   

You have kindly passed to me the risk assessments made by Hills concerning the strike. Unfortunately, I believe these risk reports betray a lack of experience from Hills, and perhaps from Wiltshire council officers. I had the benefit of taking the advice of Wiltshire Police about crowd management risk assessments during the covid pandemic restrictions. I am sure that you share my admiration for the professionalism and general good sense of Wiltshire Police, and their advice was that in a public safety risk assessment it is important to understand that you cannot control the behaviour of individuals over whom you have no authority. Hills have no authority over GMB, and therefore could not meaningfully develop a risk assessment based upon assumptions about how GMB would behave. These risk assessments are therefore not worth the paper they are written on.   

This brings me to the question of legal and moral responsibility for safety, which I feel that you regrettably failed to give sufficient weight to. The Highway Code is clear that a heavy truck has lower priority to use the road than any pedestrian, in all circumstances, whether or not that pedestrian is a picket, or a protestor. A pedestrian cannot be held legally or morally responsible for a truck striking them, in any circumstances.   

I hope that you will take up my offer to accompany you to the picket lines, so that you can see for yourself. It is my firm belief that we all have a responsibility towards public safety, and towards respecting the rule of law, and that there needs to be no ambiguity that truck drivers must always respect the safety of pedestrians.   

I look forward to your response  

Andy Newman  

GMB branch secretary  

0754 0859 227  


[2] GMB Southern Region | GMB asks Wiltshire Council to condemn unsafe practices on picket lines after workers knocked down by refuse vehicles (