Legal battle ahead as Birmingham bin strike action suspended
Unite, the trade union, has called on Birmingham city council to honour the Acas deal it agreed with Birmingham’s refuse workers belonging to Unite after the High Court ruled in the union’s favour on Wednesday (20 September), with the council ordered to withdraw the redundancy notices it served to 113 Grade Three refuse workers.
Justice Frazer ruled in favour of Unite, calling the council’s issue of redundancy notices ‘unlawful’, and the union will now be able to bring forward a full case against the council,
As part of the ruling, Unite has agreed to immediately suspend industrial action until a full hearing, the date of which is to be confirmed. Bin workers had voted to extend strike action for a further 12 weeks after the current mandate for action was set to expire today (22 September), but will now be returning to normal hours.
Commenting on the ruling, Unite assistant general secretary Howard Beckett said: “This judgment will be a huge relief to Birmingham’s bin workers, who in just a matter of weeks were facing losing their job or pay cuts of up to £5,000 a year. As part of the ruling Unite will suspend its industrial action until the matter is put before a full court hearing at a later date.
“The High Court ruling leaves Birmingham council’s unfair and unjust plans in tatters. The council needs to reflect on how it got here and the misery it has inflicted on the people of Birmingham and its own bin workers. At no stage did the council raise in court the issue of equal pay and potential costs. This scaremongering has been outed by the court proceedings as a work of pure fiction.
“We urge the council to stop wasting further taxpayers’ money in defending its dishonourable actions and honour the Acas deal which offers compromise on all sides and will settle this dispute once and for all.”
Furthermore, Beckett pulled no punches in his call for Birmingham city council Chief Executive Stella Manzie should step down: “She has repeatedly used the threat of equal pay cases to frighten and bully the council into agreeing the downgrade of long serving bin workers when it has no substance whatsoever and was not so much as mentioned by her legal team.”
A spokesperson for Birmingham city said: “The council wants to offer the best possible refuse service for citizens and wants to work with Unite and all the other unions to do this. We remain committed to resolving the dispute as quickly as possible and we hope Unite will support us in doing this.”
And end in sight?
The dispute, which has rumbled on since the end of June before being suspended on Wednesday, hinged on Birmingham City Council’s plans to make 113 Grade Three refuse workers (those responsible for safety at the back of the refuse collection vehicle) redundant and accusations of financial mismanagement on the part of the council.
In the middle of August (16 August), following seven weeks of strikes, an agreement was reached between the council and Unite, that saw the retention of the Grade Three role with refuse workers moving from a four day week to a five day week in return, only for that agreement to fall apart and for strikes to resume on 1 September after the council rejected the deal and then-council leader John Clancy claimed that a deal had only been agreed ‘in principle’.
Clancy has since resigned and the council drew condemnation from the Trades Union Congress last week over the breakdown of talks between Unite and the council, before workers voted to extend strike again earlier this week.