Bin lorry staff in Kingston could be set to strike during the Christmas period over changes to their sick leave policy.

Kingston Comet understands that GMB trade union has sent a joint letter to employer Veolia together with four other unions, setting out the dispute at the beginning of this week.

The letter, signed by GMB, Unison, Unite, URTU and Prospect, sets out that all five trade unions are in dispute with Veolia over changes to the sick policy, according to a GMB spokesperson.

Under an old policy, Veolia staff could have up to 16 days of sick leave before being called for a formal review and then potentially disciplined.

After months of discussions, Veolia imposed new reviews and sanctions on staff reducing the trigger for potential sanctions from 16 days to 6.

It is understood that the dispute could lead to strikes.

A GMB spokesperson said: “The company came up with no credible reason why 6 days was chosen, but made it plain they wished to penalise staff having odd days off, which they said was damaging company profits.

“Working in waste collection involves heavy lifting and carrying in all weathers which undoubtedly has an impact of the workers health, and can lead to coughs, colds, flu and much worse.

“We are aware of at least one case where a Veolia member was called to hospital for surgery, only for his operation day, and his five days recovery to be classed a period of sick absence of 6 days, and for him then to be reviewed, and reminded that further absences would lead to further action.”

A Veolia spokesperson said: "Earlier this year, as part of the process to update its substance misuse policy and procedure and sickness absence procedure, Veolia consulted with the GMB to ensure that changes took account of any concerns.

“After such a collaborative process Veolia is disappointed with the current campaign. Veolia has met with the GMB nationally to discuss further and has requested the support of ACAS in order to bring matters to a conclusion.

“Veolia is waiting for the GMB to confirm their attendance at a meeting with ACAS."

A Kingston Council spokesperson said: "We are aware that Veolia has been engaging with the unions on a national level in regard to drug misuse and sickness policies. At this present time, there has been no notification of any intention to ballot for strike action."