Birmingham strike finally ends with 100 jobs protected

An agreement between members of the Unite union and Birmingham City Council will see over 100 refuse collection staff keep their jobs after five months of industrial action.

Announced at the weekend, the deal will see Grade Three workers threatened with redundancy retained, with a change of job title and added responsibilities including data collection for refuse compliance.

The dispute began in June, based on the council’s plans to make 113 refuse workers redundant as part of a plan to save £5 million a year, though the council maintained that alternative employment within the council would have been offered to those affected.

In 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 claiming that a deal had only been agreed ‘in principle’.

The strikes have cost the council around £6.6 million through employing outside contractors, paying overtime, extra landfill tax from cancelled recycling collections, legal advice and losses of income from recycling, and in September Clancy resigned as council leader over his handling of the dispute.

The dispute had been due to go to a High Court hearing after a preliminary judgement from the High Court ruled in the union’s favour, calling the council’s issuing of redundancy notices ‘unlawful’. Unite agreed to suspend industrial action until the full hearing, which was due to begin today (27 November).

However a deal was struck on Saturday (25 November), which will see 106 staff remain on their existing wages in new roles, as Waste Reduction and Collection Officers, with an additional focus on engaging and educating with residents on how to recycle and what they throw away. The workers will transition to the new roles in February.

New roles will focus on generating savings through recycling

Cllr Ian Ward, Leader of Birmingham City Council, said: “This has always been about providing an efficient and effective refuse collection service for Birmingham, as that is what citizens rightly expect and deserve from us. Neither the council or Unite wanted things to escalate in the way they did, so I am pleased that through quiet, open and honest dialogue we have been able to reach a legally-sound position, going through the correct governance processes that we must always follow.

“The new Waste Reduction and Collection Officer roles we have jointly developed within our collection teams will focus on delivering a key element of the city’s waste strategy, the improvement of our recycling rate and raising awareness amongst citizens about how they can play their part in reducing the amount of waste we generate in the first place."

‘A victory for common sense’

Unite assistant general secretary Howard Beckett said: “This deal secures the grade three role and protects the pay of workers who faced losing thousands of pounds. It is a victory for common sense and a victory for the people of Birmingham who no longer need worry about the disruption of industrial action.

“This deal, which protects the livelihoods of hard-working refuse workers, would not have been possible without the determination and solidarity of Unite members. Rather than rolling over, they stood firm through thick and thin to defend their jobs and the service they provide to the city of Birmingham. The stand that Birmingham’s refuse workers took and the victory they have secured should be an inspiration to others right across the trade union movement.”  

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