Government

Thousands sign petition demanding council tax refund after Birmingham bin strike

More than 12,000 people have signed a petition calling on Birmingham City Council to refund residents a proportion of their council tax following the recent bin strike, resumed last week, in which bins were left uncollected for weeks.

The call follows the nearly two-month industrial action from refuse workers belonging to the trade union Unite over alleged financial mismanagement from the council and the forced redundancies of 106 refuse collectors, who received their redundancy notices on Friday (1 September).

The petition, set up by Birmingham City Councillor Alex Yip, reads: “We the undersigned call on Birmingham City Council to refund residents a proportion of their council tax for each missed household and recycle collection as a result of the collection strikes which started 24 June 2017.”

In response to the petition, a statement on the Birmingham City Council website says: “Council Tax is not paid to fund a particular service and there is a legal obligation to pay. It’s also important to understand that the cost per household for each weekly collection is about 92p – for all refuse and recycling collections.

“The gross cost of services provided by the council amounts to just over £3 billion per annum of which just under 10 per cent (around £271 million) is funded by Council Tax.

“Within that total the cost of refuse collection including recycling collections, delivered to about 420,000 households is less than £20 million per annum.”

Saga

The launch of the petition represents yet another twist in the long-running dispute between Birmingham City Council and refuse workers belonging to Unite, which has seen workers on strike since the end of June.

Blame and responsibility has been repeatedly exchanged between the two sides, although attempts to bring the dispute to an end have been ongoing. At the end of July (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, facilitated by the conciliation service Acas.

However, industrial action resumed last Friday (1 September) after the council rejected the brokered deal and cancelled a cabinet meeting to discuss it, calling the deal ‘unaffordable’, and proceeded with the planned redundancies.

Breakdown

Unite has accused the council of reneging on a deal and that alternative roles would see redundant workers take wage cuts, with council leader John Clancy firing back in a video on Twitter that no such definitive agreement had been reached and any deal had only been agreed ‘in principle’, while all workers made redundant would be found new roles on equivalent salaries.

In a rare intervention on Saturday (2 September), however, Acas sought to clear up its position during the ongoing talks in a statement saying:  “Acas can confirm that an agreement was reached between Birmingham City Council and Unite the Union on 15 August 2017, following discussions at Acas. The terms of the agreement were made public by Acas at the request of both parties, in a press release agreed with both parties.”

In response, a Birmingham City Council spokesperson said: “An agreement in principle was reached but, as we made clear at the time, this did not reflect the council’s position until these matters could be considered formally by Cabinet at a Committee Meeting.

“No formal decision could be made without this process taking place. In order to protect the council’s financial and legal position, Cabinet agreed to proceed with the plans for a more effective, efficient and modern refuse service first agreed on 27 June.

“The council wishes to continue its ongoing discussions with trades unions through Acas alongside seeking alternative jobs for the Grade 3s affected by redundancy.”

When questioned by Resource over whether the aforementioned alternative jobs had already been identified within the council and whether the Grade 3 workers being made redundant would have to undergo the usual application process, Birmingham City Council confirmed that those made redundant would have to undergo the normal application process but that the roles they would be applying for would be job matches to which the applicants would be able to transfer their skills from their current roles. The jobs would also be permanent and the new recruits would be provided with full training.

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