Birmingham refuse workers vote to strike

More than 300 refuse collectors, members of the Unite union working for Birmingham City Council, are set to strike between Christmas and New Year over payments made by the council to workers in a different union that did not take part in strike action during last summer’s bin dispute.

The workers voted by 94 per cent in favour of strike action and 97 per cent for industrial action short of a strike, and will start an overtime ban and a work-to-rule starting at 00:01 hours on Saturday 29 December.Birmingham refuse workers vote to strike

The industrial action will see the refuse collectors doing no more than the minimum amount of work they are contracted to, with no overtime, adhering exactly to their job grades and descriptions and contractual start and finish times. Unite members will return to work base yards for washing facilities for every 15-minute concessionary break and half-hour lunch break in line with the council’s hygiene regulations and instructions.

The strike was proposed after it was revealed that Birmingham City Council made payments to refuse workers belonging to the GMB union that did not take part in strike action last year over job cuts. Unite has also lodged claims with the Employment Tribunal, saying that the payments are tantamount to the “blacklisting” of workers who did take part in the long running bin dispute.

Last summer saw strikes by refuse workers in the Unite union over ‘financial mismanagement’ by Birmingham City Council, which led to plans by the council to make 122 waste staff redundant in June 2017.

What followed was a bitter and protracted dispute between the workers and the council, costing some £6.6 million to the council through employing outside contractors, paying overtime, extra landfill tax from cancelled recycling collections, legal advice and losses of income from recycling. The dispute finally ended in November 2017, with 106 staff remaining on existing wages with new roles.

Read more: Birmingham’s long hot summer of bin strikes

Commenting on this year’s strike action, Unite Assistant General Secretary Howard Beckett said: “This is an overwhelming ballot result that shows that our refuse collection members are not prepared to be discriminated against, compared with another group of workers who received thousands of pounds for not taking part in last year’s dispute.

“The individuals who took the decision to make such payments must be accountable to the public. To this end, we have openly written to each Labour councillor to explain the utter nonsense of the excuses given by the council for the payment to the GMB members.

“This was blatant blacklisting – an attempt by the council to prefer workers in a union that did not take industrial action. We are seeking a working environment where equality and non-discrimination are key pillars of the council’s working practices.

“The work-to-rule is designed to be proportionate and to allow the council time to do the right thing. It will be disruptive, but the council should listen to the message from their workforce and take immediate remedial action.

“How the council responds will dictate whether this dispute escalates or is resolved. The people of Birmingham should watch the council’s every move and hold their councillors to account for their decisions and actions.

“Unite members have no wish to inflict disruption and upset to the people of Birmingham, but they have no option but to take action to protect their collective rights. The blame for this dispute lies squarely at the door of the council.”

In response to the strike action, Cllr Majid Mahmood, cabinet member for clean streets, waste and recycling, said: "The people of Birmingham want us to reach a swift resolution and our request to Unite the Union is to suspend industrial action while we take this dispute into ACAS."

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