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Watched as you work: bosses are covering their own failings, says Dave Wilson

Serco decision to spy on underpaid employees is never going to motivate them

After Canterbury City Council’s waste contractor decided it would install cameras on bin trucks to monitor staff, campaigner Dave Wilson offers a devastating insight

Does knowing your boss is watching your every move make you a better worker? It seems that Canterbury’s refuse collection contractor, Serco, thinks so having decided to install cameras on its bin lorries.

It’s always possible, of course, that this is nothing more than a diversion to distract from the routinely abysmal service which Serco provides – an effort to pin the blame for the litany of vehicle breakdowns, bad communication, rotten planning and all-round ineptitude on the refuse workers rather than the real culprit: management.

Serco is attaching cameras to its bin trucks

After all, it’s not the workers’ fault Serco didn’t realise that collecting glass for recycling might result in higher levels of wear and tear on their lorries.

But apparently it’s not the company’s fault either: it’s not, after all, as if Serco was a specialist in refuse collection which bid for a contract which it knew included glass recycling.

Except, of course, that they are supposed to be, and they did.

Equally, how were Serco – then already the council’s refuse contractor – to know that some streets in Canterbury and Whitstable are a little narrow for lorries to go down?

How could they be expected to know that the recycling centre and refuse dump might be closed at New Year, and plan for it?

Dave Wilson

Dave Wilson: Wrong move

How could they be expected to know that not maintaining their lorries properly early in the contract might result in more breakdowns later on?

And who could possibly have anticipated that in a contract covering the whole of east Kent it might be necessary to have some spare trucks available to cover for those breakdowns?

Obviously not the business whose website proclaims: “We are experts in designing, implementing, and managing waste and recycling services.” That would be Serco.

No, it must be the fault of the workers. But – good for them – they are pushing back.

Unsurprisingly, at least to anyone who has ever managed teams of staff, motivating people doing difficult, dirty and underpaid work is never easy.

To do it well requires the staff to be proud of their work and of their achievements and, critically, to feel their work is respected and an intrinsic part of the success of the enterprise they work for.

Serco’s failure to deliver anything resembling a good service and its tawdry attempt to imply that it’s the fault of workshy staff is the exact opposite of what is required to motivate those teams.

So don’t fall for the idea that this is an argument about cameras – after all, lots of people are monitored by CCTV, including bank tellers, supermarket checkout staff and the police.

The real issue is about persistent poor management, scapegoating and blame. Until Serco ups its service quality, engages with its staff and takes positive steps to motivate them, you can expect it to continue with its “big brother” approach to supervision.

Dave Wilson is a Labour Party member and community activist who has worked in and around local authorities  for 35 years. He is a trustee of Kent Savers Credit Union and the Westgate Hall. 

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