Refuse collection workers at Birmingham city council have started voting in an industrial action ballot today (Wednesday 31 May) amid accusations of financial mismanagement and an overspend by council bosses of £9.7m.
The members of Unite, Britain’s biggest union, say they are angry over proposed job cuts to the city’s waste and refuse service and attempts by council bosses to “tear up” long standing agreements with Unite covering staffing levels and working patterns.
Unite says it has been involved in a consultation with managers of Birmingham city council’s waste management and refuse service over the cuts, which the council says is down to budget cuts and austerity measures.
Unite claims it has learned that the service overspent its budget by £9.7m in the financial year for 2016.
“We engaged with waste and refuse bosses in a constructive manner only to learn that it was a massive overspend which is driving these cuts and not austerity measures.”
The ballot closes on Wednesday 14 June and raises the possibility of strike action and disruption to refuse collections in the summer months.
Commenting Unite regional officer Lynne Shakespeare said: “We engaged with waste and refuse bosses in a constructive manner only to learn that it was a massive overspend which is driving these cuts and not austerity measures.
“To date, despite repeated requests, we have not been given any information as to how and why such a huge sum was overspent in a year. Instead bosses are ploughing on with their cuts leaving workers to pick up the pieces for their financial mismanagement and taxpayers out of pocket.
“We would urge management to begin listening to the workforce and to start talking meaningfully with Unite to avoid the prospect of industrial action in the coming months.”
“Pressures & Demands”
Jacqui Kennedy, Corporate Director for Place at Birmingham City Council, 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 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.”
“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.”