[Edited 19/7/17 to include response from Birmingham City Council]
The Unite union have revised their strike plan for refuse collectors and accused Birmingham City Council of ‘game playing’ and seeking ‘conflict’ as the council withdraw from talks to resolve the issues surrounding current industrial action.
121 redundancy notices served?
Talks between the two parties began last week but on Friday (14th July) the council went ahead with the plans and handed redundancy notices to 121 refuse collectors.
After massively overspending on refuse collection last year, council bosses are seeking to make changes, claiming it will mean a more modern and efficient service, relying much less on expensive overtime and agency staff.
One of the main issues was that, according to Unite, city bosses were to axe 121 full time permanent refuse collectors, as their role was to be downgraded, expecting them to do the same job for less pay.
The workers and union claim that the role – which involves management of the crew at the rear of the collection truck and linking with the driver – is vital to the health and safety of the whole crew.
The 121 were offered a downgraded contract for the same role within the refuse collection service. The council claim that workers have been offered existing jobs elsewhere within the council for their current grade should they chose to take them, saying that no jobs are being lost. However, according to Unite, the 121 redundancy notices were issued last Friday, despite union requests for the council to engage in ‘meaningful negotiations’.
In fact, Birmingham City Council have said that 246 permanent, full time roles are being created. However, many of these have been filled by agency staff who have already been working on temporary contracts, some for many years.
In the meantime, despite the council’s claim that agency staff use will be reduced in favour of permanent contracts, the local authority is currently advertising for staff on temporary contracts on a local agency website.
[Update] In response to Unite’s claims, Birmingham City Council said that they are “completely willing to talk to Unite”, which is currently staging disruptive industrial action in the refuse service, but they are “disappointed at Unite’s stance – sending in notices for further action while in the middle of discussions aimed at resolving the dispute”.
Corporate Director Jacqui Kennedy said: “There are no job losses as a result of the changes being made and we have not issued redundancy notices. In fact we have recently written to colleagues to outline the job opportunities available to them – including opportunities for promotion.
“We would encourage Grade 3 colleagues in the refuse collection service to get in touch and find out what opportunities there are. Our door remains open, while recent discussions have taken place against repeated escalation of Unite’s action and their failure to adhere to work to rule guidance.”
Revised strike plan
In light of the council’s withdrawal from talks and continuation with changes, Unite said it had ‘little option’ but to step up industrial action with a further series of daily one and two hour stoppages throughout August.
The new strike hours are:
There will also be an overtime ban in place with workers also returning to depots for all lunch and tea breaks in line with Birmingham city council’s hygiene rules.
Council have ‘sought conflict’
Unite regional officer Lynne Shakespeare said: “We met with council bosses last week in the hope of agreeing a form of words that would enable us to enter into meaningful negotiations to resolve the dispute.
“That goodwill was not reciprocated by council bosses though, who instead engaged in game playing and withdrew from the process before proper talks could get underway.”
And she claimed the council were seeking ‘conflict’ by continuing with its plans for redundancy and service changes.
‘Council to blame for missed collections’?
She said: “The blame for any missed collections rests squarely with council bosses who have shown themselves incapable of running the service, let alone capable of making any meaningful or positive changes to it.”
Ms Shakespeare went on to urge the council to reconsider engaging with the union in ‘meaningful negotiations’.