Birmingham’s refuse collectors are back on strike today after Birmingham City Council announced yesterday (Thursday 31st August) that it was to go ahead with plans to change the current Grade 3 Leading Hand refuse collector role to a Grade 2 position, making those currently in the role redundant.
The 113 employees affected will be handed redundancy notices today (Friday 1st September) but the council insists that no-one need lose their job as other Grade 3 roles within the council will be found for all who want them.
Workers resumed strike action – which had been paused – this morning with th Unite union dubbing the council’s move ‘a deeply provocative act’.
Pause after ACAS talks
Strike action – which began in June – was paused on 16th August after ACAS moderated talks between the Unite union and council bosses. Unite and ACAS issued a press release at the time, stating that Birmingham City Council had agreed to maintain the Grade 3 roles.
However, the following day, the council made it clear that no such agreement was made on their part and cabinet was yet to decide. With council officers adamant that the changes had to be implemented, a decision which was due to be made at the 24th August cabinet meeting was deferred to a special cabinet meeting to discuss the Waste Management Report to be held today (1st September).
Redundancies to go ahead
However, the council has announced yesterday that the decision on the redundancies has been made and that special meeting has now been postponed for two weeks.
A council spokesman said: “In order to protect its legal and financial position, the council is issuing redundancy notices to the Grade 3 Leading Hands in the refuse service – as approved by Cabinet on 27 June. The notices will be received on Friday 1 September. The council wishes to continue its ongoing discussions with trades unions through ACAS in parallel with seeking alternative jobs for the Grade 3s affected by redundancy.”
Unite assistant general secretary Howard Beckett said: “This is a deeply provocative act that drives a coach and horses through the agreement Unite reached with the council in good faith at the conciliation service Acas.
“It does a great disservice to the people of Birmingham and the city’s refuse workers who now face being made redundant and losing their livelihoods or pay cuts of thousands of pounds.”
‘Better, more efficient service’?
Cllr John Clancy, Leader of Birmingham City Council, said: “The new waste collection system we are introducing will provide a better, more efficient service for citizens and will enable the service to be run within budget.
“We will be creating more than 200 new refuse collection jobs for loaders. These will be full-time, offering a range of benefits, including pension entitlement and sick pay and will replace expensive agency contracts which do not include these benefits.”
Cllr Lisa Trickett, Cabinet Member for Clean Streets, Recycling and Environment, added: “None of the Grade 3 leading hands who are being made redundant need to lose their jobs with the council. Alternative Grade 3 posts, at the same salary in other parts of the council, are available for all those affected leading hands. No one needs to suffer a cut in their basic pay.”
Strike action back on
Strike action resumed this morning with union members stopping work for one hour, three times a day at 7am, 10.30am and 1pm. Adding in breaks and journeys to and from base for breaks and strike periods, working hours are going to be short and uncollected refuse is again going to build up.
Prior to the announcement yesterday, Unite had issued an appeal to city council cabinet members, urging them to uphold the deal they claim council leader John Clancy made in talks earlier this month – to keep the Grade 3 role, going against the recommendations of council officers.
Following the announcement, Mr Beckett said that Unite refuse workers wanted to focus on delivering ‘a safe, efficient service’ and did not want to resume industrial action and see piles of rubbish on the city’s streets.
He said: “Instead of embracing an agreement that would have seen compromise on all sides, the council seems content to put people on the dole and cut their wages by up to £5,000.
“Unite calls on the council to come to its senses and withdraw these redundancy notices to avoid the disruption of industrial action.”