Birmingham refuse workers vote to strike as 122 jobs cut

Council refuse workers in Birmingham have voted for industrial action over ‘financial mismanagement’, as Birmingham City Council also announces 122 waste collection job redundancies.

Following accusations of financial mismanagement and the prospect of further cuts after a council overspend of £9.7 million last year, council refuse workers that are members of the Unite workers union voted resoundingly by 90 per cent for strike action, while 93 per cent also voted for industrial action short of a strike.

Birmingham refuse workers vote to strike as 122 jobs cutThe results of the ballot came today (16 June) as the council announced it would be making 122 waste collection staff redundant over the next two weeks, a decision that is sure to test the resolve of the council workers over forthcoming action, though the council has said that all staff will be offered alternaitve employment within the council.

Voting for the industrial action began two weeks ago ahead of proposed cuts, which the council has blamed on budget cuts and austerity measures. Commenting on the decision, Unite’s Regional Officer Lynne Shakespeare said: “It is unfortunate that the day the ballot results came through, the council's waste management service announced it intended to make 122 waste collection staff redundant in two weeks’ time. 

"The loss of jobs in this area is a disgrace, as bosses continue to increase recruiting agency workers – there appears to be no coherent workplace planning by the council.

“We discovered during the farcical consultation that the management has been instructing our members to collect side waste (boxes and bags left beside the bins) even though it is not budgeted for; to collect ‘green’ waste from residents who have not paid for this service. The management can’t keep to a budget, having created a huge £9.7 million overspend in the financial year for 2016. 

“The sad thing about this is that our members are going to pay the price for this incompetence with their jobs and the Birmingham taxpayers are picking up the tab for mismanagement of waste services.  

“We are currently consulting with our members as to the next steps in regards to industrial action as all of the 122 posts due to be cut are in safety sensitive areas, such as the operation and safety at the rear of the vehicles.”

Council move hopes to achieve efficiencies and service improvements

Responding to the vote, Cllr Lisa Trickett, Birmingham City Council's Cabinet Member for Clean Streets, Recycling and Environment, said: “We are very disappointed by the result of the ballot, taken by just one of the unions representing the waste collection workforce (Unite). 

“The city council, as a responsible employer, has consulted extensively with the unions on a new waste services operating model proposal since January 2017, and in a genuine attempt to reach agreement the council went beyond its obligation to consult for 45 days, extending on a number of instances up to 112 days - more than double the time required by law.

“Under our plans, alternative employment within the council will be offered for those affected, minimising the impact and stabilising and securing the workforce. It is regrettable that one union has refused to acknowledge the need for changes in working methods that are required to ensure the council's services are on a sound financial footing.

“Without the changes we are proposing the council would need to find £10 million extra per year to keep things as they are, potentially risking delivery of other unrelated services to citizens. We know that the efficiency of our crews that work four nine-hour days is not as good as that achieved by crews working five seven-and-a-half-hour days in other cities. If we can move into line with other councils we will help Birmingham save £4 million a year, and deliver a better service for citizens. 

“The way Birmingham's waste management service currently operates is no longer modern or efficient and does not offer best value for taxpayers. We urge the union to reconsider its stance on this issue as a matter of urgency.”

Industrial action

The proposed industrial action, which now seems inevitable following the council’s job cuts announcement in a move that seems likely to aggravate the situation, comes days after Unite claimed a ‘landmark victory’ for refuse workers over waste management firm Veolia in an overtime pay case.

An employment tribunal ruled last week over the failure of Veolia Environmental Services to incorporate overtime pay into annual holiday pay for its refuse workers, with Unite stating that the ruling, which covered the London councils of Bromley and Camden, would have implications for the thousands of Unite members working for Veolia on waste contracts across the UK.

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