Birmingham bin dispute back on as council issues redundancies
Birmingham refuse workers belonging to the Unite union could resume industrial strike action after Birmingham City Council announced that it is issuing redundancy notices to refuse workers.
The council was due to meet today (1 September) to discuss the agreement brokered by the conciliation service Acas in August, but instead cancelled its cabinet meeting with a view to reconvene on 13 September, branding the deal ‘unaffordable’.
The deal had stipulated that grade three workers (responsible for loading and safety at the back of refuse collection vehicles) would keep their roles and in return refuse workers would switch from a four-day to a five-day week.
It also announced that it would be pushing ahead with the redundancies approved by the cabinet on 27 June ‘in order to protect its legal and financial position’, while expressing its desire to continue discussions with Unite through Acas and to source alternative jobs for the refuse workers being made redundant.
In response to the news, Unite said that the issuing of redundancy notices would lead to a resumption of strike action, with bin workers returning to the picket lines today at times of 7am, 10.30am and 1.30pm for three hours – action set to continue on a daily basis.
Unite has said it will be reballoting its members on the topic of industrial action, raising the prospect of strikes continuing through to the New Year.
A ‘deeply provocative act’
The resumption of strike action by Unite refuse workers will hardly be welcome new for beleaguered Birmingham citizens who have seen rubbish pile up in the city’s streets as the dispute has rumbled on unresolved over the past seven weeks or so.
Commenting on the news, Unite Assistant General Secretary Howard Beckett said: "This is a deeply provocative act that drives a coach and horses through the agreement Unite reached with the council in good faith at the conciliation service Acas.
"It does a great disservice to the people of Birmingham and the city's refuse workers who now face being made redundant and losing their livelihoods or pay cuts of thousands of pounds."
"The last thing refuse workers want to do is resume industrial action and see piles of rubbish accumulating on Birmingham's streets. This is their city too. Our members want to focus on delivering a safe efficient service to people of Birmingham.
"Sadly, it seems the council does not want to see that happen. Instead of embracing an agreement that would have seen compromise on all sides, the council seems content to put people on the dole and cut their wages by up to £5,000.
"Unite calls on the council to come to its senses and withdraw these redundancy notices to avoid the disruption of industrial action."
Cllr John Clancy, Leader of Birmingham City Council, responded: “The new waste collection system we are introducing will provide a better, more efficient service for citizens and will enable the service to be run within budget.
“We will be creating more than 200 new refuse collection jobs for loaders. These will be full-time, offering a range of benefits, including pension entitlement and sick pay and will replace expensive agency contracts which do not include these benefits.”
Cllr Lisa Trickett, Cabinet Member for Clean Streets, Recycling and Environment, added: “None of the Grade 3 leading hands who are being made redundant need to lose their jobs with the council. Alternative Grade 3 posts, at the same salary in other parts of the council, are available for all those affected leading hands. No one needs to suffer a cut in their basic pay.
“We hope that, in view of the ongoing discussions with Acas , Unite will not take their workforce back out on strike but continue in discussions with us and the other unions.”
More to run
Just as it appeared as if the end was with sight for the dispute that has run since June this year, it seems that any hope of a lasting resolution has been scuppered, at least for the time being.
The council has been pushing ahead with redundancies of grade three workers in light of the need to make an estimated £70.9 million of savings in 2017/18, with waste management costs budgeted at £5.2 million for predicted operational costs of £5.156 million, although operational costs are expected to rise to £5.435 million beyond 2017/18.
Unite say that this compromises on safety and will lead to many workers being forced to take wage cuts in alternative roles.
Today’s announcement is not the first time that hopes of an agreement between the two parties have been dashed since the beginning of the long-running saga. At the end of last month (28 July), Howard Beckett suggested that talks were close between Unite and Birmingham City Council bringing hope that the dispute could be brought to an amicable end.
However, that hope appeared to have evaporated in the face of Beckett’s warning last month week (11 August) that the strike action could continue until Christmas unless the council came to the table with a ‘fair settlement’ for refuse workers, which appeared to have been achieved when Unite called off strike action on 16 August following productive talks with council leader Jon Clancy, before falling apart again today.
Only time will tell whether a new agreement can be reached and whether any potential agreement will hold.