Birmingham bin strike suspended as agreement reached
The Unite trade union has called off the Birmingham bin strike scheduled for today (8 March) after a new deal was put forward to bring the dispute to a close.
A heads of agreement, which sets out the key points of a proposed deal, has been drawn up between Unite and Birmingham City Council, which has lead to Unite suspending today’s planned industrial action to give the council’s cabinet time to discuss the proposed offer. If the deal is approved then all further planned strike action will be called off.
Commenting on the deal, Unite assistant general secretary Howard Beckett said: “The heads of settlement is a real breakthrough in negotiations. For the first time there is a deal on the table which meets Unite’s members expectations, it is now imperative that Birmingham City Council’s cabinet signs up to the deal. I am sure that Birmingham residents will be keeping their fingers crossed that the cabinet does the right thing and this long-running dispute is finally brought to a close.”
The dispute began in December 2018 after Unite accused the council of ‘blacklisting’ its workers over payments to other workers belonging to the GMB union, who did not take part in strike action during the 2017 bin dispute over job cuts. GMB has maintained that the payments were made as part of compensation after the council failed to consult with any unions other than Unite about the agreement to end strike action by Unite workers.
As a result, more than 300 refuse workers belonging to Unite have been engaged in a work-to-rule and overtime ban strike since December, with new strike dates announced in February 2019. These will now be scrapped if the proposed settlement deal is accepted by Birmingham City Council’s cabinet at a meeting on 15 March.
Furthermore, an independent review of the waste service will also be commissioned by the council as part of the joint commitment to providing the best standard of service possible for Birmingham’s citizens, businesses and visitors.
Exact details of the independent review and its scope will be finalised in due course and the terms of reference will be considered at a cabinet meeting on 26 March.
Commenting on the agreement, Councillor Ian Ward, Leader of Birmingham City Council, said: “Since the start of this dispute we’ve said that a negotiated settlement was what everyone needed. There's been a determination this week on all sides to bring this dispute to an end and we now have a platform from which to collectively move forward. Everyone involved has always had the same aim – to deliver the best possible service for citizens, as clean streets have consistently been named as the number one priority for the people of Birmingham.
“We all know the service needs to be better than it has been. This settlement will enable us to lay the foundations for improvement. The independent review will take a long, hard look at the service and come forward with recommendations that help us collectively achieve this.”
The dispute has grown increasingly rancorous in recent weeks. Unite and Birmingham City Council entered into “detailed” discussions facilitated by conciliation service Acas at the end of January, with Unite setting the council a deadline of Friday 1 February to make an “improved offer to the workforce”. However, no offer was forthcoming, leading to new strike action.
Hastily convened peace talks between the two parties collapsed “within minutes” at the start of February, with Unite accusing the council of acting in a “deceitful and deliberately misleading manner”.
Both the council and Unite attempted to take out injunctions on each other, with Unite’s injunction, which was rejected by the High Court on 14 February, aimed at preventing the council from sending out refuse wagons short-staffed and without the grade three workers that operate at the rear of the vehicles. The council also lost its bid to impose an injunction to stop refuse workers from striking on 1 March.