Strike action finally suspended in Birmingham bin dispute
Birmingham’s long-running bin dispute appears to be nearing an end as workers’ union Unite announced that it would be suspending industrial action after it declared victory in its struggle with the city council today (16 August).
Strike action planned up until 21 September, which began in late June as a result of accusations from Unite of financial mismanagement by the council after it proposed job cuts in the wake of a council overspend of £9.7 million for the 2015/16 financial year, will now be suspended and normal collection of bins will resume (much to the relief of beleaguered residents).
Unite and the city council will continue to hold talks on remaining issues under the supervision of the conciliation service Acas.
The two sides will now discuss how the refuse collection service can be improved in terms of efficiency and savings and how the current grade three roles can be maintained and developed in order to further the aim of delivering cleaner streets and ‘Total Place’ principles.
Back to normality
Commenting on the announcement, Unite Assistant General Secretary Howard Beckett said: “We are very pleased that we have reached the stage where we can suspend the industrial action while we hold further talks about the future of the refuse service.
“I know this news will be greatly welcomed by the people of Birmingham as they look forward to their bins being collected again on a regular and seamless basis. I would like to thank them for their understanding over recent weeks.
“Unite will suspend the current round of industrial action that was due to run until 21 September to create a conducive climate for the talks to proceed smoothly. Our members will be working normally.
“I would like to pay tribute to the city council leader Cllr John Clancy who has worked very hard and travelled the extra mile to achieve this solution, despite the reservations of some top council officials.
“The council has addressed our members’ concerns, including the safeguarding of the grade three post that is vital to the safety at the rear of the refuse vehicles. Unite also welcomes the fact that our suspended rep is now returning to work. Unite recognises – and deplores – that local government in England has suffered swingeing cuts to its funding since the Tories came to power in 2010.
“Finally, I would like to thank our members for the solidarity they have shown in defence of a decent and well-resourced refuse collection in Birmingham, and their stand against job cuts and massive cuts to their wages.
“We will be entering into these Acas talks in a constructive and positive fashion – and recognise that there is still much hard work to be done.”
Seeing is believing
While today’s announcement is certainly welcome news and will provide respite to the residents of Birmingham who have experienced refuse piling up in the streets during the dispute, we have been here before.
At the end of last month (28 July), 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 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.
Unite’s announcement is certainly good news, but it remains to be seen whether the temporary truce will hold or collapse as the two sides continue to wrangle over the details of the settlement, with a Birmingham City Council spokesperson stating that the original changes proposed by the council which sparked the Unite industrial action are still the council’s formal position until it has the chance to discuss it at the council’s Special Cabinet Meeting next week (24 August).
The spokesperson said: “The Acas statement in connection with the Waste and Refuse dispute does not represent the council's position until these matters are considered at the council's Special Cabinet Meeting on 24 August 2017. The decision on the waste reorganisation taken by Cabinet on 27 June is still the current position of the council.”
In the meantime, the council has announced that it has partnered with Smurfit Kappa to recycle paper and card in certain parts of the city and has also offered a free service to deal with rats in houses and gardens.