Government

Unite warns Birmingham bin dispute could last until Christmas

Trade union Unite has warned that the ongoing dispute between Birmingham City Council and striking refuse workers could continue until Christmas unless the council comes to the negotiating table with a ‘fair settlement’ for the picketing binmen.

Unite warns Birmingham bin dispute could last until Christmas
The union’s Assistant General Secretary Howard Beckett announced today (11 August) that the union would be balloting its refuse collection members from next Thursday (17 August) over whether to continue strike action or industrial action short of a full strike once the current daily strike action ends on 21 September.

Beckett said: “We continue to hold talks with the council, but progress has been slow and we would call on the council to now step up and conclude this urgently. In the absence of a settlement, we will be balloting our members… on whether they wish to take strike action and/or industrial action short of a strike after the current industrial action comes to an end in September. The ballot closes on 31 August.”

Strike action 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. In addition, Unite states that it is concerned about the safety of refuse vehicles in light of proposed cuts and the regarding of jobs which would threaten the incomes of the lowest paid workers, who could potentially lose up to £5,000 a year.

In contrast, the council, which recently stated that it would be replacing 122 redundant staff roles with 125 jobs at the same grade, maintains that the dispute is over working patterns.

So far the action has taken the form of a series of one- and two-hour stoppages. The dispute has seen rubbish left uncollected in the streets of Birmingham, drawing the ire of local residents, and even seen Harry Potter actor Oliver Phelps, a resident of nearby Sutton Caulfield, come out on the side of striking binmen in a tweet to his near one million followers on the social media platform, bringing the dispute to the attention of the wider public.

Beckett continued: “A renewed industrial action mandate could see this dispute continuing up to Christmas. This is the last thing that the Birmingham public and our members want, so we again today call on the city council to move up a gear and negotiate constructively.

“This dispute began with Birmingham council having a list of demands. During the dispute one of our shop stewards has been suspended and disciplinary action has been accelerated against him.

“In contrast, the union has said protect the salaries of our members in the grade three role and drop the disciplinary against our shop steward and we can work to a settlement regarding all of the council’s further demands. The council must now step up and conclude a settlement.” 

Responding to Beckett’s announcement, Cllr Lisa Trickett, Birmingham’s Cabinet Member for Clean Streets, Recycling and Environment, saying: “We are very disappointed by this latest development. Unite are effectively holding the city to ransom with this announcement.

“They have talked about red lines they wish to negotiate with us, but this threat of extended industrial action will not help the process of achieving a swift resolution so we can get on with delivering a modern, effective and efficient refuse collection service for the people of Birmingham.

“We have put the offer of ACAS to Unite as an open, fair and transparent way of ending the dispute.”

Strike action a ‘last resort’

Unite’s announcement marks the latest twist in the long-running saga between Birmingham City Council and card-carrying Unite refuse workers, which appeared to be reaching a conclusion last month (28 July) after Beckett and the council suggested that constructive talks were set to resume.

In the face of growing public anger at the disruption to waste collection and disposal services in the city, Unite has sought to reassure residents regarding the motives for the strike. Beckett added: “I would also ask the Birmingham public to understand that strike action is a last resort for our members and places them in considerable financial hardship.

“We are keen to discuss our plans to maximise recycling revenue, but we will not discuss low paid members with families losing up to 20 per cent of their wages because of historical mismanagement and Tory-driven austerity.

“To the members of the public suffering we offer our sincere sympathies, we ask them to place themselves in the shoes of our members and ask them to call upon the council to resolve this dispute.”

In the event that talks do not resume soon, current strike action in the form of three one hour stoppages at 7am, 10.30am and 1.30pm will continue from today until 21 September, whereupon further industrial action will take place if no agreement can be reached in the coming weeks.

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