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Andrew Lynch: Just the last thing we need is a bin strike

There is no more powerful symbol of a country in crisis than rubbish piling up on the streets.

Unfortunately, that's exactly what's facing the people of Dun Laoghaire this week as the appalling prospect of a bin strike raises its smelly head.

Emergency talks between the local council and refuse collectors have still not managed to achieve a breakthrough -- and if the industrial action goes ahead on Thursday, there's every chance it could rapidly spread to the rest of the city as well.

Like many of these disputes, it should have been possible to see this one coming a long time ago.

Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown council has decided to appoint a private waste collection firm to replace its own service, starting from next Monday.

It wouldn't have taken a brain surgeon to work out that SIPTU would be unhappy about this -- and sure enough, they have served strike notice on the council despite the fact that its members have all been offered jobs with other sections of the local authority.

The old arguments about privatisation are about to be debated all over again. The council says that the current service makes a loss of €3.5m and is just not sustainable, particularly since the cost of landfill disposal is set to increase in the coming years.

Disaster

The union protests that this move is in breach of the Croke Park Agreement and will ultimately cost residents more because private firms tend to cherry-pick the most profitable routes and leave everyone else to fend for themselves.

For the 18,000 households in Dun Laoghaire who depend on these services, this is nothing short of a disaster. As the row over the Poolbeg incinerator shows, our national policy on waste disposal is a bit of a mess at the best of times. If the threatened strike becomes a reality, it could easily spread to the other three local authority districts of Dublin, which are also being balloted for industrial action.

That's why the negotiators on both sides at the Labour Relations Commission today must do their utmost to achieve at least a temporary solution. The odour of public mismanagement is bad enough as it is -- and with the weather getting warmer and wetter, another foul smell in the air is the last thing we need.


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