Birmingham Bin Dispute Could Last Until Christmas

The long-running Birmingham bin dispute, which has seen refuse collectors in the city of Birmingham strike, could continue until Christmas unless the city council “negotiates a fair settlement”, Unite the union has warned.

The union is balloting its refuse collection members to renew its industrial action mandate, which could result in more strikes after the present daily strike action ends on 21 September.

Unite assistant general secretary Howard Beckett said: “We continue to hold talks with the council, but progress has been slow and we would call on the council to now step up and conclude this urgently.

“To the members of the public suffering we offer our sincere sympathies, we ask them to place themselves in the shoes of our members and ask them to call upon the council to resolve this dispute.”

“In the absence of a settlement, we will be balloting our members from 17 August on whether they wish to take strike action and/or industrial action short of a strike after the current industrial action comes to an end in September. The ballot closes on 31 August.

“The current round of industrial action is due to end on 21 September and a renewed industrial action mandate could see this dispute continuing up to Christmas.

“This is the last thing that the Birmingham public and our members want, so we again today call on the city council to move up a gear and negotiate constructively.

“This dispute began with Birmingham council having a list of demands. During the dispute one of our shop stewards has been suspended and disciplinary action has been accelerated against him.

“In contrast the union has said protect the salaries of our members in the grade 3 role and drop the disciplinary against our shop steward and we can work to a settlement regarding all of the council’s further demands. The council must now step up and conclude a settlement.”

Refuse Worker Safety

Unite has said that the local authority regarded the dispute as about working patterns, while the union said that it was about safety on the refuse vehicles and threats to the jobs and incomes of already “lowly paid workers” who could lose up to £5,000-a-year, it claims.

Howard Beckett added: “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.

“We are keen to discuss our plans to maximise recycling revenue, but we will not discuss low paid members with families losing up to 20% of their wages because of historical mismanagement and Tory-driven austerity.

“To the members of the public suffering we offer our sincere sympathies, we ask them to place themselves in the shoes of our members and ask them to call upon the council to resolve this dispute.”

The current pattern of industrial action is three one hour stoppages at 07.00, 10.30 and 13.30 which started today (Friday 11 August) and runs until 21 September inclusive.

“Pressures & Demands”

Jacqui Kennedy, Corporate Director for Place at Birmingham City Council, previously commented on the ballot: “As has been widely reported, the council needs to save £171m by 2021 and this is a challenge being faced by all service areas within the council.

“In terms of waste management, pressures and demands on the service continue, and mean we have to find ways of saving in the region of £10m more on an annual basis. Doing nothing is simply not an option. We need to offer our services in a more productive, effective and efficient way.

“The proposals we are consulting on will achieve all of these objectives and bring the council’s waste management service into line with many other councils nationally.

“For some staff this could mean taking up a different role, and there are sufficient vacancies within the new structure proposal to ensure that all affected staff have this opportunity. We are also looking at how we can make promotion opportunities available for those potentially affected.

“What we have developed is a carefully considered and informed model that will ensure our services are on a sound and affordable footing for the future.

“The council remains focussed on ensuring that all our services make best use of public funds and that we deliver high quality services to the public.

“It is evident that there are more cost effective ways of working in refuse collection. The consultation period has already been extended twice at the request of the trades unions to enable them to develop some alternative proposals.

“Management are committed to working closely with union colleagues to help them produce alternative proposals. It is therefore disappointing this action is being encouraged whilst we continue to work so closely.”

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