5 February 2019 by Joshua Doherty

Birmingham refuse strikes escalated

More than 300 refuse workers employed by Birmingham City Council will be on strike twice a week starting February 19 2019, after the Unite Union decided to escalate its action.

In response, Birmingham council has said it is “disappointed” with the decision and urged the union to continue negotiating.

Strike action in 2017 saw residents complain of piles of waste on the streets

Since December 2018, around 300 workers in the in-house collection teams who are part of the Unite Union have been on a work to rule and overtime ban over alleged payments to some members of staff following strike action in 2017.

And, in a statement earlier yesterday, the Unite Union said that the council failed “to make an improved offer to the workers”, and said it has breached an agreement “by employing agency crews to try to undermine the ongoing lawful industrial action”.

Last month, the Labour-run council announced contingency plans on how it hopes to deal with the latest wave of industrial action (see letsrecycle.com story), while later saying it may take legal action (see letsrecycle.com story).

Following “detailed negotiations” at the conciliation service Acas, Unite said it had set the council a deadline of the afternoon of Friday 1 February to make an improved offer to the workforce.

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

Mr Beckett added that the action is as a “last resort” and it moved to take full action “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,” he added.

Council

In response, a spokesperson Birmingham council say they are “disappointed” with the action and urge the union to continue negotiating.

A Birmingham City Council spokesperson 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 spokesperson continued: “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.”

History

In 2017, a series of strikes were called – although later resolved – over objections to changes in the waste collection service and practices from the Unite trade union and collection crews.

The latest action relates to alleged payments to refuse workers who did not support the dispute, according to Unite.

The industrial action lasted around three months and saw rubbish piled up on Birmingham’s streets.

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