Birmingham refuse workers vote to extend strike action

Members of the trade union Unite working for Birmingham City Council’s refuse service have voted to extend their mandate for industrial action, it was announced yesterday (Monday 18 September).

The vote, which saw 92.4 per cent of members back further strike action on a turnout of 72.7 per cent, looks set to extend strike action up until Christmas unless Birmingham council bosses honour the agreement brokered by conciliation service Acas in August.

With the current mandate for strike action expiring on Friday 22 September, the vote extends the mandate by a further 12 weeks from the first day of renewed action, with Unite set to confirm the date in the coming days.

The result of the vote comes on the same day as a High Court hearing where Unite is seeking an injunction to force Birmingham to withdraw redundancy notices it has served to refuse workers, with the hearing expected to finish later today (Tuesday 19 September).

Commenting on the decision, Unite assistant general secretary Howard Beckett said: “Birmingham City Council can be under no illusion of the determination of the city’s refuse workers to secure the Acas deal agreed between Unite and the council. As this overwhelming result demonstrates, Unite members are prepared for the long haul and to take strike action up to the end of the year.

“This is not a step they want to take and one that will not be needed if the council honours the Acas agreement that was made in good faith. Our members want to get back to work and serve the people and households of Birmingham, but are determined for a just outcome.

“We would urge the council to reflect on this overwhelming vote, honour the Acas agreement and end the misery its dishonourable actions are inflicting on the good people of Birmingham.”

Dispute rumbles on

News that strike action is to be extended is unlikely to be welcomed by Birmingham residents weary of the stalemate which has seen rubbish piling in up in the streets during the course of the strike, with the council bringing in agency workers to clear the streets, with teams visiting each of the city’s wards every four weeks. It remains to be seen at which party the public will direct their ire following this latest announcement, but whichever way it falls could prove crucial in forcing both sides to reach a compromise.

The dispute, which has rumbled on since the end of June, hinges on Birmingham City Council’s plans to make 122 Grade Three refuse workers (those responsible for safety at the back of the refuse collection vehicle) redundant and accusations of financial mismanagement on the part of the council.

In the middle of August (16 August), following seven weeks of strikes, an agreement was reached between the council and Unite, that saw the retention of the Grade Three role with refuse workers moving from a four day week to a five day week in return, only for that agreement to fall apart and for strikes to resume on 1 September after the council rejected the deal and then-council leader John Clancy claimed that a deal had only been agreed ‘in principle’.

Clancy has since resigned and the council drew condemnation from the Trades Union Congress last week over the breakdown of talks between Unite and the council.

Interim council leader Ian Ward told the BBC: "The current dispute is not in the interests of the council or the residents of the city of Birmingham, and what we all have to do is resolve that dispute."

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