Birmingham council has said that it may seek court action against trade unions representing city refuse workers if further talks fail to bring an end to industrial action.
The potential action has caused a major split in the council’s cabinet, with the cabinet member for waste and recycling at Birmingham city council, Majid Mahmood, dramatically resigning from his post ahead of a meeting to discuss the proposals yesterday (15 January).
The latest round of industrial action has seen around 300 members of the Unite Union take part in an overtime ban and work to rule over alleged payments to some members of staff following strike action in 2017 (see letsrecycle.com story).
Yesterday, the council said it will invite unions to binding arbitration talks with the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service in a bid to resolve the dispute. If this fails the council will seek a court injunction to halt further action, it has said, using powers under the Trade Union Act.
Following the meeting, Unite has threatened to escalate current industrial action into a full strike unless the threat is withdrawn.
In a statement published after the meeting, leader of the council Cllr Ian Ward said: “The people of Birmingham want us to resolve the waste collection dispute as quickly as possible and cabinet members agreed a way forward, but unfortunately Cllr Mahmood changed his mind and was subsequently unwilling to support that way forward.
“I thank Cllr Mahmood for his efforts over the last four years, but being in the Cabinet requires collective responsibility, respect for the respective roles of officers and members, and the courage to take tough decisions in the interests of those we serve.
“Our focus now is to test our legal advice and seek a resolution to this dispute through binding arbitration at ACAS.”
Unite assistant general secretary Howard Beckett said: “We would urge the council to rethink and start meaningfully engaging with Unite over an offer to resolve this dispute otherwise we will be forced to escalate our industrial action to strike action.
“If not resolved the people of Birmingham will not forgive the council for this dispute.”
As a result of the ongoing action, Birmingham council has adopted contingency plans which will see the council move to fortnightly collections for residual waste from a weekly service. Weekly recycling collection services will be maintained ‘where possible’ the council has said. A report to the cabinet suggested the action will cost “£350,000 per week for an initial 3 months”.
Extended opening hours of council-run HWRCs will also be introduced to help deal with the reduction in the kerbside service.
Also at yesterday’s meeting, the council voted in favour of entering into a five-year interim contract with Veolia for the treatment of its waste, after a previous decision on the contract was called in (see letsrecycle.com story).
The cabinet again voted in favour to move forward with the interim deal, which was put in place to allow “essential works” on the Tyseley energy from waste facility to take place. The report said that this is an “appropriate period” to allow the works and subsequent re-procurement process to take place.
The 25-year contract was initially signed in 1994.