Brighton refuse and recycling strikes continue

Strikes that commenced on 5 October amidst HGV drivers for Brighton and Hove City Council’s refuse and recycling service, Cityclean, are expected to continue after unsuccessful talks with trade union GMB.

The walk-out is expected to last for the duration of the 14 days proposed, which was enacted after an initial ballot result amongst workers saw a return of 79.6 per cent of union members being in favour of industrial action. The vote came in the wake of an ongoing dispute between drivers and the council surrounding the local government’s refusal to intervene in the unilateral imposition of daily changes in duties and crews and the removal of workers from longstanding rounds without process, which GMB claims Cityclean has carried out by ‘management whim’. 54 staff members are currently partaking in the action, all of which are refuse and recycling lorry drivers.

Bin collectionBrighton and Hove City Council states that it believes that changes to staff rotas have been made in a ‘fair and open way’, and that requests for worker flexibility were unavoidable due to a combination of factors ranging from high levels of staff illness, attributed in part to the pandemic, to the national HGV driver shortage preventing the hiring of new staff. The Council affirms that it has hosted, and will continue to host, talks with GMB in a bid to avert any further strike action. Previous discussion, however, has failed to prevent the boycott from taking place, with a resolution agreement tabled by the council on the day of the strike’s commencement failing to settle the dispute. Two formal pay offers made by the council, one of which was made today (11 October), have also been rejected by the GMB since.

The council warns residents that all household and communal bin waste and recycling services offered by Cityclean have been affected by the strike, as well as the provider’s garden and trade waste services. The governmental body asserts, however, that contingency plans have been put in place in order to assuage the amount of surplus refuse that will accumulate as a result of the industrial action, stressing that their non-striking street cleaning teams will carry out the additional work.

In spite of this backup, the council is still advising local residents on how to handle uncollected refuse. The body advises residents to either double or triple bag non-recyclable refuse, to be placed outside of their green wheelie bins in the event of a missed collection. In terms of recyclable waste, the body advises residents to store it at home where possible. Both of the city’s Household Waste and Recycling Centres (HWRCs) will be open to accept surplus refuse, both non-recyclable and recyclable, throughout the duration of the strike. As for garden waste, subscriptions will be extended for one collection in order to accommodate for those missed.

Gary Palmer, GMB Organiser, commented: "A total of 54 HGV holding drivers will be taking strike action during the next 14 days after latest talks with Brighton and Hove City Council failed. Pickets will be in place from 5 am each day.

"HGV drivers are being removed without reason at the whim of local management, ignoring all the council's own policies and procedures around raising issues around capability or disciplinary matters in a formal way. The bullying and harassment of GMB drivers before and during this dispute must stop."

On the unsuccessful meetings with the council, Palmer added: "I left the picket line today telling our members, fingers crossed for a deal today colleagues, I’m going back in the morning with a clear get stuffed two finger message instead for the workforce.

"It is so disappointing as Friday’s meeting had left us with the impression that we had made good progress in moving towards a resolution and halting strike action, but today has seen a clear about turn and retraction of certain positional assurances by the council’s team.

"How on earth did they think that they could dress up today’s meeting as anything other than a slap in the face for our members?  

"Not only do we now expect our members to carry on and possibly escalate their strike action, but I would expect our membership in additional areas within Cityclean to also demand our moving towards their own industrial ballot process in response to the council’s step back from a settlement.

"We are of course ready to talk but the council are clearly not yet adversely worried about the state of the city, when they are we’ll be here waiting. 

Nick Hibberd, the council’s Executive Director for Economy, Environment and Culture, said: “To provide the best service for the city and to support staff, there are occasions where it’s felt appropriate to make crew changes or move a member of staff from one round or crew to another.

“Changes are requested to prioritise areas where rubbish and recycling has unfortunately built up due to unavoidable staff shortages, vehicle break downs, or for performance reasons. We have listened to the concerns of staff about these requests, and we have made a number of detailed proposals which we hope GMB and the HGV drivers will agree on tomorrow.

“I want to thank GMB for their willingness to meet and hold constructive talks, and I also thank Cityclean staff for their continued hard work. I hope we can reach an agreement tomorrow and work towards achieving our shared vision of a city where we tackle waste and recycling together, continue collaboratively with Cityclean modernisation plans and provide the best service for residents.

“We understand residents will have concerns about disruption in the coming days and once again reiterate our commitment to finding a positive resolution for both staff and the city.”

On the rejection of today’s formal pay offer, Green Councillor Hannah Clare, Deputy Leader of the Council, said: “Today we once again met with the GMB, to put a further, additional formal offer to them to resolve the dispute, this time involving increased pay.

“It’s our view that while pay was not on the original ballot, this increased pay offer is a positive attempt to recognise the hard work of not just Cityclean staff – but all staff working across the council.

“We’re disappointed that the GMB walked out of the room before discussing this offer with us. There are long term issues with the Cityclean service that we’re keen to resolve, and we believe that discussion is crucial. Only by staying around the table can a good outcome be reached, both for staff and for residents of our city.

“We are really keen to keep discussing this latest offer with the GMB and hope they will reconsider their walk-out today and resume talks. Our door remains open to talk any of this through with GMB reps.”