Birmingham council refuse workers in strike vote over cuts

Refuse collection workers in Birmingham are to vote on whether to take strike action over accusations of financial mismanagement and a council overspend of £9.7 million.

The vote on industrial action has been called by members of Unite, the UK’s biggest trade union, in response to proposed job cuts to Birmingham’s waste and refuse service and attempts by the council to renege on longstanding agreements over working patterns and staffing levels.

Birmingham council refuse workers in strike vote over cuts
Unite has been in consultations with Birmingham City Council’s waste and refuse service over the proposed cuts, which the council has blamed on budget cuts and austerity measures despite the union claiming the waste and refuse service recorded a budget overspend of £9.7 million for the 2015/16 financial year.

Commenting on the vote, Unite regional officer Lynne Shakespeare said: “We engaged with waste and refuse bosses in a constructive manner only to learn that it was a massive overspend which is driving these cuts and not austerity measures.

“To date, despite repeated requests, we have not been given any information as to how and why such a huge sum was overspent in a year. Instead bosses are ploughing on with their cuts leaving workers to pick up the pieces for their financial mismanagement and taxpayers out of pocket.

“We would urge management to begin listening to the workforce and to start talking meaningfully with Unite to avoid the prospect of industrial action in the coming months.”

The ballot close on 14 June and raises the prospect of strike action and disruption to collection services over the busy summer months.

‘Doing nothing simply not an option’

In response to the strike threat, Jacqui Kennedy, Director for Place at Birmingham City Council, said: "As has been widely reported, the council needs to save £171 million by 2021 and this is a challenge being faced by all service areas within the council.

"In terms of waste management, pressures and demands on the service continue, and mean we have to find ways of saving in the region of £10 million more on an annual basis.

"Doing nothing is simply not an option. We need to offer our services in a more productive, effective and efficient way.

"The proposals we are consulting on will achieve all of these objectives and bring the council's waste management service into line with many other councils nationally.

"For some staff this could mean taking up a different role, and there are sufficient vacancies within the new structure proposal to ensure that all affected staff have this opportunity. We are also looking at how we can make promotion opportunities available for those potentially affected."

The proposed strike action follows previous industrial action of the past year, with Sheffield bin workers part of the GMB union taking part in a 24-hour walk out in a dispute over pay with Veolia in October 2016, Doncaster Council bin workers taking part in strike action due to a dispute over pay and conditions with council waste contractor Suez in December 2016, and workers at five of Kirklees Council’s waste and recycling sites walking out in February 2017 over another pay dispute with Suez.

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