Birmingham bin strike talks collapse
Strike action in Birmingham over the ongoing dispute between the Unite union and Birmingham City Council is set to go ahead as peace talks between the two parties collapsed yesterday (12 February).
The talks, facilitated by conciliation service Acas, were intended to find a resolution to the dispute over payments previously made to refuse workers belonging to the GMB union, who did not take part in strike action during the 2017 bin dispute over job cuts. Unite has described the payments as tantamount to the “blacklisting” of workers who did take part in the long running bin dispute. 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
Over 300 refuse workers belonging to the Unite union have been engaged in a work-to-rule and overtime ban strike since December 2018, which forced the council to implement contingency service plans, including a delayed collections timetable.
In a bid to resolve the dispute, Unite and Birmingham City Council entered into “detailed” discussions facilitated by Acas, 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 the new strike action.
The latest round of talks collapsed “within minutes”, according to Unite, which accused the council of acting in a “deceitful and deliberately misleading manner”.
Unite assistant general secretary Howard Beckett said: “Unite attended talks at Acas today in good faith only to discover that the terms of settlement proposed now by Birmingham council are worse than the unacceptable terms previously on offer.
“Under those circumstances the talks collapsed immediately and given the attitude of the council there is little prospect of further talks taking place in the near future.
“It is clear that Birmingham council has one agenda which is to provoke strike action, which will cause misery for the city’s residents.
“Birmingham council is seeking to justify its position by deliberately misleading residents and publishing distorted and untrue information. The material provided to today’s Birmingham cabinet meeting [was] nothing more than a work of fiction. This is senior officers distorting the truth in order to protect their own reputations and sadly it appears the leader of the council is prepared to allow this to happen.
“Judging by its actions today it is clear that the council officers’ agenda is not to resolve this dispute but instead to challenge Unite’s collective organisation in Birmingham. The people of Birmingham should blame the council for the inevitable escalation of industrial action.”
In response to Unite’s statement, a Birmingham City Council spokesperson revealed that the council would seek to take out an injunction to bring an end to the strike action, saying: “Despite our commitment to resolving the ongoing dispute, we have so far been unable to make the progress we had hoped for. Through talks at Acas we've made an offer that remains on the table and we urge the trades unions to put that offer to their members for serious consideration. Our offer has been consistent throughout, but we cannot do anything that our legal advisors will not endorse or that our auditors will not support.
“So, after exhausting all other options, we have regrettably been left with no option but to seek legal action in the form of an injunction to end the ongoing industrial dispute. Our reasonable offer remains on the table and we would urge the trades unions to put it to their members for serious consideration.
“We have made it very clear that the payments to GMB members at the root of this dispute were made as a result of a failure to consult by the council during the negotiations that ended the 2017 dispute. They were not payments for working during the industrial action. The advice we have is that the grounds for the dispute are legally-questionable and we want to get back to work towards the number one priority for citizens – clean streets in Birmingham.”
The failure of the peace talks came before today’s High Court hearing, where Unite has begun injunction proceedings to prevent the council from sending out refuse wagons short-staffed and without the grade three workers that operate at the rear of the wagon. As part of the agreement that brought the 2017 dispute to a close, all wagons are meant to be staffed by a grade three worker at the back of vehicle for safety reasons.
With no end to the dispute in site, Unite workers will be striking on: Tuesday 19 February, Friday 22 February, Wednesday 27 February, Thursday 28 February, Monday 4 March, Friday 8 March, Tuesday 12 March, Wednesday 13 March, Thursday 21 March and Friday 22 March.