Bin lorry driver tells of shock at council’s U-turn over his sacking

A South Tyneside bin wagon.
A South Tyneside bin wagon.
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Two binmen who were sacked over a bitterly disputed drink-at-work row have told how their elation turned to agony when they were dismissed for a second time – just days after a council chief confirmed they had won their jobs back.

Driver David Nightingale and bin operative Ronnie Spence have launched joint claims for unfair and wrongful dismissal after both were axed by South Tyneside Council in February last year.

Mr Spence, 54, lost his job after being accused on drinking while on the job, and 58-year-old Mr Nightingale was also fired after the council said he was aware members of the crew were drinking.

Both men – who have more than 60 years of service with the council between them – denied the allegations and were successful in an appeal to the council’s appeals panel who overturned the decision, a hearing heard.

But the panel – made up of local councillors – saw its ruling overturned by town hall bosses, it is claimed.

A third worker who admitted drinking alcohol at work on the day had his dismissal upheld.

A preliminary employment tribunal hearing heard that both men were given the green light to return to work when South Tyneside Council’s head of legal services, Mike Harding, sent an email on August 28 to their union representative – South Tyneside councillor Wilf Flynn – stating the appeal had been successful.

Coun Flynn phoned both men to share the good news and told them to expect a letter finalising their re-appointment, the hearing heard.

But when the letter arrived, on September 9, it informed the men the council had rejected the appeal’s panel decision – and the two of them had effectively been sacked for a second time.

At the tribunal, held in North Shields, both men are claiming unfair and wrongful dismissal and unlawful deduction of wages.

But, having already waited five months for their appeal to be heard, they face another delay after employment judge Jeremy Hargrove reserved judgement over whether the case will move to a full tribunal hearing.

During the hearing, Mr Nightingale, 58, said: “Coun Flynn phoned us to say he had good news. We had been reinstated. He said to expect a letter in the next two weeks to confirm it.

“I received a letter on September 9 from the council saying the appeal panel’s decision had been overturned and we remained sacked.

“I read out the letter to Coun Flynn. He was fuming.”

Judge Hargrove adjourned the case to decide whether the dismissal date should be recorded as February 19, as the workers claim, or as September 9, the date the appeal committee verdict was overturned, as the council argues.