Many people have heard jokes and warnings from teachers and parents that if they don't study hard, they might end up as a binman. However, a job as a refuse collector is not nearly as bad as it is made out to be. As refuse collectors typically start early in the morning, it's a job particularly suited to early risers. Also, this is a great job for people that enjoy working outside. Entry-level refuse collector jobs are open to people with no qualifications, but they usually have to be 18 to start. This means that school leavers, when they hit 18, can start earning as a refuse collectors, without having to go into years of further education and potentially ladening themselves with student debt.
Furthermore, refuse collectors are providing an essential service to the public, meaning psychologically, workers know their job has meaning. Recent strike action in Scotland showed just how vital refuse collectors are with rubbish piling up on the streets. Strike action was brought about after refuse collector salaries were only set to rise by 2%, despite an 8.6% increase on the Consumer Price Index and energy bills set to soar. The most recent negotiated rise of 3.5% was also rejected.
So, just what is the current average refuse collector salary? That is just what this article will break down.
The average salary for a refuse collector in the UK is £21,567, but it can vary depending on a number of factors. For example, in most cases, entry-level inexperienced employees will earn less. According to government sources, bin workers' salaries range from £17,000 to £25,000 per year. However, this is not specific to refuse collectors and includes roles like waste operatives. It is hard to pin down a concrete average salary as many sources differ.
By region, workers in London have the highest salary at £22,289, whilst Scotland has the lowest salary, £18,896. UK talent has provided similar estimates on salary, the average being £21,705 with an hourly rate of £11.13. Indeed jobs have provided a lower estimate sitting at £10.42 per hour and £19,359 per year. Interestingly enough, they also state that Manchester provides the highest salaries for collectors, with some workers earning as much as £34.22 per hour.
Perhaps the different ranges reflect the ability to earn extra money through overtime.
As of the latest ONS figures, the average regular weekly salary is £558, and the average weekly total salary is £615. So, multiplying that by the 52 weeks in a year, you get an average base salary of £29,016. If you include the total salary, such as added overtime pay, you get a salary of £31,980. As you can see, both these calculations show that even at the higher end, a refuse collector earns less than the average UK worker.
So, even if you take the highest-end salary of £25,000 and add the latest 5% wage increase offer, it still only amounts to £26,250. This is still a good chunk behind the average UK salary. Furthermore, as the refuse collector strike is happening in Scotland, things become more complex because of the different Income Tax bands. In Scotland, this wage increase would push those earning £25,000 into a higher tax bracket. They would be pushed from the Basic rate of 20% into the 21% intermediate rate. This somewhat diminishes the pay increase.
However, for the rest of the UK, the tax rate for a refuse collector remains the same at the 20% basic rate. For a more accurate breakdown of how much tax you need to pay weekly, monthly and yearly, you can use an online calculator.
A refuse collector is responsible for collecting rubbish and recycling bins from the public and businesses. This involves using the lorry's lifting mechanism to load rubbish wheelie bins into the vehicle. It also involves lifting and throwing bags and other rubbish into the back of the lorry. A refuse collector may also have to crush or compact waste and sort recycling at the curbside before emptying contents into the lorry.
A refuse collector will also help the driver manoeuvre around streets, directing them when needed. Workers will also have to fill in reports, informing employers of any problems on their route. The amount of waste collected is also monitored and recorded. A refuse collector is also responsible for helping unload the waste at the waste facility.
As touched upon briefly, you do not need any qualifications to become a refuse collector. However, SCQF level 4/5 grades and UK equivalents are valued by employers for this role. A Large Goods Vehicle license is also helpful to have to help you progress in your role to become a refuse collection driver. Furthermore, because of the nature of the work, any qualifications or experience in health and safety, recycling, or fitness are helpful to have.
In terms of the job itself, a worker will have to have good customer service skills as they will regularly deal with the public. They will need to be able to work independently and as part of a team. They must be physically fit with good coordination and capable of working outside in all weathers. They must be organised and have good attention to detail. Furthermore, they must be able to do basic tasks on a handheld computer.
Unlike some jobs that have no future progression, refuse collector salaries can be built on over time. For example, if they have an LGV license, they may be able to become a refuse driver. The average wage for this role is £27,353, and the salary range is from £20,800 to £37,128.
With further training, you can also progress to be a waste collection team leader or supervisor. A recent job posting by Stirling Council listed the salary as £46,845 - £49,713 a year for this position but required an HNC/HND in a related field.
Also another route is to become a waste management officer or recycling officer. A recycling officer can expect a salary of between £19,000 to £35,00 depending on experience. Waste management officers receive starting salaries of around £22,000 and £25,000. Senior officers with years of experience can earn around £28,000 to £45,000. Operations managers or chartered waste managers can earn even more. They can expect around £45,000 a year or more.
Sometimes, you may be unable to gain a position as a collector immediately. Other times you may get the job it may not be the job for you. So whether you want to gain experience first to later become a refuse collector or switch to a new role, you could look at similar jobs. Luckily there are a number of related jobs to choose from. For example:
- Recycling operative
- Facilities manager
- Highway cleaner
- Window cleaner
- Accommodation warden
Having this wide array of similar options means you may be able to gain transferable experience to become a refuse collector. Or, it means you have options to switch up your career path, as skills learned as a refuse collector are also transferable to these roles.
The strikes are part of an overall Scottish council pay rise dispute. Three unions, Unison, GMB and Unite have combined efforts to strike for better refuse collector salaries as well as other council workers. The strike was organised because the 2% pay rise does not match the rise in living costs. Therefore, the 2% wage rise, in reality, amounts to a real terms pay cut as it does not match inflation.
This salary increase was then increased to 3.5%, which was rejected. The Scottish government then gave councils £140 million extra to offer a 5% increase. However, unions have asked for a flat rate increase of £3,000. This is largely because higher earners would benefit more from a percentage increase than those at the bottom who need it most. For example, council executives on £80,000 a year would receive an extra £4,000, whilst someone on £20,000 would only receive a £1,000 boost.
The second wave of strikes will involve the following councils:
- Aberdeen City
- East Ayrshire
- East Lothian
- East Renfrewshire
- South Ayrshire
- South Lanarkshire
- West Lothian
As stated by Glasgow Evening Times Unite General Secretary, Sharon Graham said:
“Unite’s members play a crucial role in keeping Scotland’s bins emptied and streets clean, and they have had enough of the procrastination between COSLA and the Scottish Government that has led us to where we are now. Our members across all councils will receive the union’s complete support until this dispute is resolved and a fair pay offer secured."
Despite the derision from some people, a refuse collector can be a rewarding job with the chance to progress further. However, even though recent strikes have shown how essential refuse collectors are, their salary remains below the national average. Although sources vary the average wage is around £21,000. but can reach up to 25k.
This is far below the national average wage of around £29,000 annually. This means that refuse collectors struggle financially more than the average person. This means that the sharp hike in inflation and living costs to match will hit them harder than most people. As inflation approaches double digits, workers have refused a 2% wage rise and have commenced strike action. They are striking for a flat-rate increase of £3,000 to meet the spiralling living costs.