Talks close in Birmingham bin dispute

Birmingham City Council has indicated its willingness to re-open talks to resolve the ongoing dispute between refuse workers part of the Unite trade union and the council, according to the union itself.

Unite’s negotiating team will be led by Unite Assistant General Secretary Howard Beckett and there is every hope that Councillor John Clancy, the leader of Birmingham City Council, will be involved in some capacity in the council’s negotiating team to settle the dispute which has led to waste going uncollected from the city’s streets.

The dispute kicked off at the end of May when it was revealed that Birmingham City Council’s waste and refuse service would be pushing ahead with proposed cuts. After going to a ballot over proposed industrial action, it was announced on 16 June that 90 per cent of Unite members who voted had voted for strike action. The announcement came at the same time as the news that the council would be making 122 waste collection staff roles redundant, though the council stresses that these employees will be offered roles elsewhere within the council.

Strike action, featuring two and one-hour stoppages, have so far been arranged from today (28 July) up to 21 September.

Both sides dispute the reasons for the action, which commenced on 30 June, with the council maintaining that it is about working patterns, while Unite say that it is about safety of refuse vehicles and job cuts and regrading which would threaten the incomes of the lowest paid workers, who could potentially lose up to £5,000 a year.

Commenting on the apparent détente between Unite and the council, Beckett said: “We are making every effort to resolve this dispute and, hopefully, we can hold talks with Cllr Clancy very soon, otherwise the industrial action already planned to run up to the middle of September will escalate. we are seeking assurances that our workplace reps are not being targeted for disciplinary action. 

“I would also ask the Birmingham public to understand that strike action is a last resort for our members and places them in considerable financial hardship. The reality is they have been left with no choice because of the regrade of their jobs and loss of income which is simply unaffordable for our members. If members of the public place themselves in our members’ shoes, they will know that losing thousands of pounds a year in income means missing mortgage payments, failing to keep up with their rents and not being able feed their children.” 

In response, Birmingham City Council released a statement saying: “Positive discussions are continuing to take place with the unions and we hope to be able to resolve this sooner rather than later. This has always been about delivering a reliable, efficient and value for money waste collection services in the city.

“We continue to build on the clear-up work carried out over the weekend. Crews are focusing on the hotspot areas across the city, and so far 2,600 roads, a third of the city, have been cleared. We will work through the remaining areas in the coming days to tackle the backlog and get collections back on track. We appreciate this has been a frustrating time for Birmingham citizens and we thank them for their ongoing patience as we seek to resolve the dispute with the unions as quickly as possible.

“We would stress that changes to the service involve no job losses, no cuts to basic salary and 220 permanent new jobs.”

Strike action to continue

Until talks formally resume, strike action will continue, with two hour stoppages between 6am and 8am on 31 July and 1,2,3,4,7,8,9 and 10 August, one hour stoppages between 12.30pm and 1.30pm today (28 July), 31 July and 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9 and 10 August, and three one hour stoppages at 7am, 10.30am and 1.30pm from 11 August until 21 September.

Beckett said: “We have legitimate safety concerns about what the council proposes and are concerned that workers on as little as £21,000-a-year could face a pay cut of up to £5,000, if they are downgraded, which is unacceptable. 

“However, we appreciate that local government has been targeted by the Tory government with swingeing cuts to its budgets and we want to work with the Labour-controlled city council that needs to find extra income to mitigate the harsh effects of austerity.

“We want them to listen to our plans to maximise recycling revenue and we will listen to them about changed working patterns, but we will not discuss low paid members with families losing up to 20 per cent of their wages because of historical mismanagement and Tory-driven austerity. I would like to reiterate that the industrial action, being taken by our members in defence of their jobs and livelihoods, is lawful.”