Council approves agreement to end Birmingham bin strike

The industrial dispute between Birmingham City Council and refuse workers belonging to the trade union Unite has been brought to an end, after the council approved the legal agreement to bring the strike to a close last Friday (15 March).

A heads of agreement, which set out the key points of the deal, was drawn up at the start of the month and led to Unite suspending the strike action scheduled for 8 March to allow the council’s cabinet time to discuss and approve the offer on the table.

The dispute began in December 2018 after Unite accused the council of ‘blacklisting’ its workers when payments were made to other workers belonging to the GMB union, who did not take part in strike action during the 2017 bin dispute over job cuts. GMB has maintained that the payments were made as part of compensation after the council failed to consult with any unions other than Unite about the agreement to end strike action by Unite workers.

Council approves agreement to end Birmingham bin strikeAs a result, more than 300 refuse workers belonging to Unite were engaged in a work-to-rule and overtime ban strike since December. All further strike action has now been called off after Birmingham City Council’s cabinet approved the agreement at a meeting on 15 March.

The dispute had become increasingly acrimonious in the weeks leading up to the agreement. Peace talks between the two parties collapsed “within minutes” at the start of February, with Unite accusing the council of acting in a “deceitful and deliberately misleading manner”. Both the council and Unite also attempted to take out injunctions against each other; Unite’s bid to prevent the council from sending out refuse wagons short-staffed and without the grade three workers that operate at the rear of the vehicles, and the council’s bid to stop refuse workers from striking, were both rejected by the High Court.

The terms of the agreement

As part of the new agreement between the council and Unite:

  • All Unite members who were balloted for industrial action in 2017 will receive £3,500;
  • All workers who claimed they were blacklisted by having holiday request refused during the current dispute will receive £500;
  • Unite’s High Court case concerning the council’s breach of the agreement that ended the 2017 dispute will be terminated;
  • The council will cease utilising mop up crews without a qualified waste reduction collections officer on board;
  • The council is committed to holding a recruitment day so that agency staff can apply for permanent positions; and
  • All other outstanding legal issues have been resolved.

In addition to the agreed terms, an independent review on future options for the delivery of the waste service will also be commissioned by Birmingham City Council as part of its commitment to providing the best standard of service possible for Birmingham’s citizens, businesses and visitors.

Exact details of the independent review and its scope will be finalised in due course and the terms of reference will be considered at a cabinet meeting on 26 March.

Review to take ‘long, hard look at the service’

Commenting on the agreement, Unite assistant general secretary Howard Beckett said: “Unite is pleased that it has been able to reach agreement with the council to finally bring an end to this lengthy dispute.

“By standing together our members have secured an excellent settlement and ended the injustice that they had been subject to. Their success demonstrates what can be achieved when workers are united.

“Unite has been consistent from the beginning of the dispute that our members were simply seeking parity, with the payments that workers who did not take part in the 2017 dispute, subsequently received. Once that principle was understood the dispute could be resolved.

“Unite is firmly committed to developing strong industrial relations with Birmingham council in the future and hopes that the recent industrial disputes can be put behind us.”

Councillor Ian Ward, Leader of Birmingham City Council, added: “Since the start of this dispute we’ve said that a negotiated settlement was what everyone needed. There's been a determination this week on all sides to bring this dispute to an end and we now have a platform from which to collectively move forward.

“Everyone involved has always had the same aim – to deliver the best possible service for citizens, as clean streets have consistently been named as the number one priority for the people of Birmingham.

“We all know the service needs to be better than it has been. This settlement will enable us to lay the foundations for improvement. The independent review will take a long, hard look at the service and come forward with recommendations that help us collectively achieve this.”

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