Birmingham bin strike could extend into next year

The Guardian 9 months ago

Birmingham’s bin strike could continue until next year if refuse collectors vote to renew industrial action in a union ballot.

On Wednesday, Birmingham council voted to continue with plans to cut 106 jobs in a reorganisation of the waste management service that it hopes will save more than £5m a year.

A spokesman for Unite, which will take the dispute to the high court in London on Thursday, said the council’s decision was extremely disappointing.

The union believes the redundancies are unlawful and is applying for an injunction to force the council to withdraw the redundancy notices. It says workers face a pay cut of up to £5,000 if they agree to the changes.

Unite plans to hold a rally on Sunday in support of the striking workers, who have taken more than eight weeks of industrial action this summer.

Bin workers who are members of Unite are striking for a three hours a day and returning to the depot for all lunch and tea breaks. The dispute has caused rubbish to pile up in the streets and forced the council to contract private firms at an estimated cost of up to £311,000 a week.

In August, hopes were high that an agreement had been reached to halt the strikes, with Unite agreeing their workers would move from a four- to a five-day week.

But the deal quickly unravelled when a report from the council’s chief executive, Stella Manzie, warned of “significant potential financial implications” were it to be implemented. According to Unite, instead of honouring the Acas deal, the council without warning issued redundancy notices to the affected workers.

Workers went back on strike on 1 September, eventually prompting the resignation of the council leader, John Clancy. He resigned on Monday ahead of a no-confidence vote over his handling of the dispute.

While reaffirming the cost reduction plan on Wednesday, the council cabinet also pledged to “build on discussions between the leader, Unite and Acas, involving all four of the trade unions represented in the waste workforce, on ways to resolve the current industrial action involving Unite and disputes raised by other trade unions”.

Unite’s Birmingham rally will take place on Sunday at noon in Victoria Square. Speakers will include Len McCluskey, the Unite general secretary.

Unite is reballoting its members for further strike action, as required by anti-trade union laws. The ballot will close on 18 September. If, as expected, Unite’s members renew their strike mandate, the industrial action will continue until the new year, a spokesman said.

Howard Beckett Unite assistant general secretary said: “It is extremely disappointing that the council has decided to renege on the Acas agreement and plough on with its plans which will result in pay cuts of up to £5,000 for Birmingham’s refuse workers.

“Tomorrow we will be going to the high court seeking an injunction to reverse the council’s unjust and callous redundancies. Birmingham council needs to see sense and honour the agreement it reached with Unite or face industrial action new year.”

Tags: birmingham
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