Unite announces new strike dates for Birmingham refuse workers

Over 300 refuse workers belonging to the Unite union are set to strike for two days a week from 19 February in an escalation of a continuing dispute with Birmingham City Council.

Unite announced on Monday (4 January) that the new strike action would take place after the council “failed to make an improved offer to workers” following “detailed” negotiations at the conciliation service ACAS.

The 300 or so refuse collectors have been engaging in a work-to-rule and overtime ban strike since December 2018, when 94 per cent of the workers voted for industrial action. The action forced Birmingham City Council to implement contingency service plans, including a delayed collections timetable.

Unite announces new strike dates for Birmingham refuse workersThe dispute revolves around payments previously made to refuse workers belonging to the GMB union, who did not take part in strike action during the 2017 bin dispute over job cuts, with Unite saying that the payments are tantamount to the “blacklisting” of workers who did take part in the long running bin dispute.

Unite additionally claims that the council is further blacklisting striking workers by refusing their holiday requests and that the council is in breach of the agreement to settle the 2017 dispute by employing agency crews to try to undermine the ongoing lawful industrial action. 

GMB responded to the accusations made by Unite against its members, stating that the payments were made after the council failed to consult with any unions other than Unite about the agreement to end strike action by Unite workers. As a result, role changes were made that affected all Birmingham refuse collectors, regardless of union affiliation. GMB states that the payments to its workers ‘related only to the potential failure to consult’ on the agreement and subsequent role changes.

In a bid to resolve the current dispute, Unite and Birmingham City Council entered into “detailed” discussions facilitated by Acas, with Unite setting the council a deadline of Friday 1 February to make an “improved offer to the workforce”. However, no offer was forthcoming, leading to the new round of strike action.

Commenting on the dispute, Unite assistant general secretary Howard Beckett said: “The decision to escalate the dispute and begin strike action is a direct result of Birmingham City Council’s failure to treat our members fairly.

“Rather than settle this dispute and end the discrimination the council has instead chosen to try to utilise anti-trade union laws and is penalising workers who have been taking industrial action by denying them their holiday requests.

“Unite’s members have taken the decision to move to full strike action as a last resort due to the council’s refusal to make a fair offer to resolve this dispute.

“This dispute is entirely of Birmingham Council’s making and it is in the council’s hands to come forward with a solution to end the discrimination experienced by Unite members. If they fail to do so then the city’s residents will regrettably experience further disruption to their refuse service in the coming weeks.”

Responding to the Unite statement, a spokesperson for Birmingham City Council said: “We utterly refute the allegations made and are extremely disappointed that the reasonable offer we have put forward has been rejected by Unite on behalf of their members.

“The Unite statement is not in the spirit of ongoing discussions at Acas, but we remain committed to resolving this dispute and the offer is still on the table.

“As previously stated on a number of occasions, the payments to GMB members were properly made for a failure to consult during the talks that ended the 2017 dispute .We would urge Unite to continue talks as we want to resolve this matter, so citizens get the refuse collection service they rightly expect and deserve.”

Unite is also seeking a high court injunction to prevent Birmingham City Council from sending out refuse wagons short-staffed and without the grade three workers that operate at the rear of the wagon. As part of the agreement that brought the 2017 dispute to a close, all wagons are meant to be staffed by a grade three worker at the back of vehicle for safety reasons.

The strike dates that Unite has announced are: Tuesday 19 February, Friday 22 February, Wednesday 27 February, Thursday 28 February, Monday 4 March, Friday 8 March, Tuesday 12 March, Wednesday 13 March, Thursday 21 March and Friday 22 March.

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