Two disputes continue this week with trade union Unite accusing Birmingham city council and Suez – the contractor for Doncaster council – of seeking to make job cuts to their waste collection services.
Birmingham city council has reported that ‘positive discussions’ are being held with Unite to resolve an ongoing dispute regarding changes to the council’s waste collection service.
In a statement released yesterday (7 August) the council also confirmed that it is ‘well into its recovery plan’ to address the ‘backlog’ of waste caused by the ongoing industrial dispute.
A Birmingham city council spokesperson said: “By the end of Monday (August 7), we had visited 70 per cent of the city’s 8,200 streets.
“We are adopting a different approach that does not involve the regular collection schedules, with the aim of having dealt with 100 per cent of wards by the end of this week, the third of a three-week recovery plan for the city.
The spokesperson continued: “Positive discussions are continuing to take place with the unions and we hope to be able to resolve this sooner rather than later. This has always been about delivering a reliable, efficient and value for money waste collection service for the people of Birmingham.”
The council also claims that the changes to the service involve ‘no job losses’ as permanent alternatives are available for those affected. And, the local authority added that ‘more than 200’ permanent new jobs will be created under the new model.
However, in a response issued today (9 August) Unite said talks with the council have been ‘open and honest’ but that pay cuts faced by workers are ‘unacceptable’.
A Unite spokesperson said: “it is unacceptable that workers face a regrade and pay cut of between £3,500 and £5,000 to keep their job in waste services. They are low paid, have mortgages or rent to pay and families to feed.
“We urge the council to work with Unite to resolve this dispute before it escalates further.”
Strike action is also due to take place in Doncaster, according to Unite, following disputes with the council’s private contractor Suez over pay cuts and proposed job cuts.
According to Unite, the dispute involves the recycling and recovery contract that Suez manages on behalf of Doncaster council. As a result of the dispute residents are facing sustained periods without rubbish collections.
“Positive discussions are continuing to take place with the unions and we hope to be able to resolve this sooner rather than later.”
Birmingham city council
Unite reports that workers, members of Unite, have recorded a 89 per cent vote in favour of strike action after Suez made a 2 pay cent pay offer, conditional on the removal of guaranteed overtime, which the union said would result in most workers not receiving an increase in pay.
Unite has announced an initial strike beginning on Wednesday 23 August until Sunday 27 August. A further action will then begin on Saturday 2 September finishing on Wednesday 6 September.
The trade union said the dispute has ‘further deepened’ with Suez looking to halve the 250 strong workforce by October. Unite has also accused the company of being ‘intent’ on making over a hundred workers redundant. Unite said it is currently preparing to launch a separate industrial action ballot over the job cuts.
Unite regional officer Shane Sweeting said: “Unite is bitterly disappointed that Suez’s management, has made no attempt to seek to resolve the dispute.
“Unite recognises that if the strikes go ahead it will have a major effect on local residents but this action is being taken as a last resort.
“We urge Suez to sit down at the negotiating table, make a reasonable pay offer and withdraw its redundancy proposals which will make the contract undeliverable.”
Unite said as a result of the job cuts, Suez is proposing to reduce refuse collections from a five day a week service to four days. The current medical waste removal service will be cancelled; the green waste collection will change from a year round service to operating only for nine months and the company will no longer undertake the licensed removal of asbestos.
Unite said it is in the process of arranging meetings with Ros Jones the Mayor of Doncaster and the local MPs. The union said it hopes to put pressure on Suez to ‘actively seek a solution’ to the dispute.
In response to Unite’s claims, today (9 August) Nick Browning, general manager for municipal operations at Suez, said the company was disappointed by Unite’s choice to announce strike action while negotiations are still ‘ongoing’.
Mr Browning said: “There is a further meeting scheduled between SUEZ and Unite officials this Friday, so we are at a loss to explain why Unite are pressing ahead with plans to strike in advance of this.
According to Mr Browning, Unite members employed on its Doncaster contract received a ‘significant’ pay award last December, after threatening strike action over Christmas, but are now ‘demanding’ a further 8.8 per cent pay increase as a weighted average across roles.
Mr Browning continued: “Clearly this is unrealistic considering that most in the public sector have seen almost a decade of pay freezes or one per cent annual increases at best.”
“The dates Unite has chosen to conduct these stoppages are unfortunately designed to have maximum impact on operations and the residents of Doncaster, but our efforts remain focussed on reaching a negotiated position on pay to avoid this action being carried out.”
Gill Gillies, assistant director of environment at Doncaster council, added: “We are disappointed that the trade union members have voted for industrial action at this stage, when negotiations continue between SUEZ and the unions. We would urge all parties to continue discussions to find a resolution to this as soon as possible.”