Materials separated for recycling may be mixed with general waste, according to Birmingham City Council, as it reveals details of its revised contingency plans to deal with the city’s waste in light of the most recent refuse worker strike action.
Unite announced that over 300 refuse workers employed by Birmingham City Council will begin two days of strike action a week, starting tomorrow (Tuesday 19 February), in an escalation of the ongoing industrial dispute. The two days a week of strike action is in addition to the overtime ban.
Unite’s dispute with the council concerns alleged “blacklisting” of refuse workers who took strike action in 2017. The union claims that the council made payments worth “several thousand pounds” to a group of refuse workers who did not take part in last year’s bin dispute.
The council said that no payments were made to employees who were represented by the GMB union in the refuse service for not going on strike during the industrial action last year.
Revised contingency plans set up by the council to deal with the city’s waste during this time may mean “the general waste and the recycling are mixed and put into the back of the same collection vehicle, but only where a separate service is not possible,” the council said.
Cllr Brett O’Reilly– “I know the fact that we may not be able to recycle as much as we did before will be of concern to residents who are keen to do their bit for the environment, but our top priority has to be that of citizens overall – clean streets for Birmingham.”
As part of the contingency, crews will dispose of the content of the bins in “the most effective way possible” to meet the number one priority of citizens – clean streets, the council says. Collections have temporarily been moved to a fortnightly frequency.
Cllr Brett O’Reilly, Cabinet Member for Clean Streets, Waste and Recycling at Birmingham City Council, said: “Based on the effect of the dispute so far, we have reviewed our original contingency and are now putting forward a plan that fits with the staffing resource we have available.
“I know the fact that we may not be able to recycle as much as we did before will be of concern to residents who are keen to do their bit for the environment, but our top priority has to be that of citizens overall – clean streets for Birmingham.”
The industrial action will intensify this week with workers starting a programme of strike action from Tuesday 19 February.
Most recently in the dispute, Unite had sought to start injunction proceedings to stop Birmingham council “breaking the agreement” that resolved the 2017 bin dispute.
While the judge rejected an interim injunction pending the final hearing, it was recognised that there needs to be a full trial held on “serious issues” as quickly as possible, to investigate whether Birmingham council is undermining the 2017 High Court agreement.
Unite assistant general secretary Howard Beckett – “Birmingham council’s decision to undermine the High Court agreement is jeopardising the safety of residents and workers alike.”
The union claims Birmingham City Council is sending out refuse wagons “short staffed” and without the safety critical grade three leading hands who operate at the rear of bin wagons.
Unite assistant general secretary Howard Beckett said: “Unite believes that the trial will fully reveal how Birmingham council has been in breach of the agreement, for a number of months, that all bin lorries must have a safety critical worker in attendance when they are operating.
“Birmingham council’s decision to undermine the High Court agreement is jeopardising the safety of residents and workers alike.
“As there is no immediate injunction we have no option but to consult tomorrow with our reps and members about escalating the industrial action, in order to ensure workers are no longer being placed in danger.
A Birmingham City Council spokesperson –“We are hearing yet more misleading comments from Unite in response to their failure to secure an injunction against our efforts to provide the best possible waste collections during the industrial action they have instigated.
“If Birmingham council does not give an immediate assurance that it will abide by the 2017 agreement and restore safety critical staff to all bin lorries, Unite will be forced to ballot for industrial action on this matter.”
A Birmingham City Council spokesperson said: “We are hearing yet more misleading comments from Unite in response to their failure to secure an injunction against our efforts to provide the best possible waste collections during the industrial action they have instigated.
“All city council employees who deliver waste collection services have health and safety responsibilities – it is not exclusive to a certain grade or role.
“The same can be said for any agency or contract worker we utilise for missed collections or the contingency plan to mitigate the effects of the current industrial action.
“As stated previously, we have put a reasonable offer on the table to end this dispute. “We’d urge the trades unions to put this to their members so they can give it the serious consideration it deserves.
“We need to get back to the task of providing a service that citizens expect and deserve.”