City refuse workers have voted in favour of strike action as Birmingham City Council announce 122 jobs are to go in the next fortnight – around 20% of the current workforce.

The workers, members of Unite, have voted 90% in favour of strike action, with 93% for industrial action short of a strike.

Loss of jobs ‘a disgrace’

According to Unite, the results have come at the same time as council waste management bosses have said that they plan to reduce the waste collection workforce by around 20%, with 122 collectors losing their jobs within the next two weeks.

Lynne Shakespeare, regional officer for Unite, said: “Loyal employees, who have worked, in some cases, for up to 30 years in waste services, are being told that they are no longer wanted and need to find alternative work.

“The loss of jobs in this area is a disgrace, as bosses continue to increase recruiting agency workers – there appears to be no coherent workplace planning by the council” she said.

Ms Shakespeare said that Unite had found that their members were being asked to perform tasks which the council had not budgeted for, such as collecting side waste (extra bags and boxes beside bins) and collecting green garden waste from residents who had not paid for the service.

‘Incompetence’ & ‘mismanagement’

She accused management of incompetence and being unable to keep to a budget – highlighting a £9.7m overspend in the financial year for 2016 – and said that workers “are going to pay the price […] with their jobs” as taxpayers pick up the tab for mismanagement.

‘Disappointed’

On behalf of Birmingham City Council, Cllr Lisa Trickett, Cabinet Member for Clean Streets, Recycling and Environment, said: “We are very disappointed by the result of the ballot, taken by just one of the unions representing the waste collection workforce.

“The city council, as a responsible employer, has consulted extensively with the unions on a new waste services operating model proposal since January 2017, and in a genuine attempt to reach agreement the council went beyond its obligation to consult for 45 days, extending on a number of instances up to 112 days – more than double the time required by law.”

Cllr Trickett said that all those affected will be offered alternative employment within the council, in an attempt to minimise the impact and stabilise and secure the workforce.

‘Regrettable’

She said: “It is regrettable that one union has refused to acknowledge the need for changes in working methods that are required to ensure the council’s services are on a sound financial footing.”

Cllr Trickett said that changes to modernise the service had to be made, pointing out that maintaining the service as it is would cost the council an extra £10 million a year, putting other council services at risk.

She said that crews working five seven-and-a-half-hour days in other cities were known to be more efficient than Birmingham crews that work four nine-hour days, saying that moving in line with other councils would save the city £4 million a yer and deliver a better service. She said: “The way Birmingham’s waste management service currently operates is no longer modern or efficient and does not offer best value for taxpayers.”

Moving forward?

Cllr Trickett urged Unite to: “reconsider its stance on this issue as a matter of urgency.”

Unite are now consulting with members on the next steps to take toward industrial action.

Apologies over missed collections

Earlier this year, Birmingham City Council were forced to apologise as hundreds of refuse and recycling collections were missed, with no clear reason given as to why: some blamed staff shortages or claimed collectors were operating an unofficial ‘work to rule’ in fear of cuts to their pay and hours. Cllr Lisa Trickett said performance had reduced as “some crews [were] slowing down and [that] caused a drop-off”.

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