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The truth behind Birmingham's bins dispute

We put seven questions to both sides of the bitter bin strike dispute. Credit: ITV News

ITV News Central put a series of the same questions to both sides in the increasingly bitter dispute about refuse collection in Birmingham.

This is the response from Unite union:

1) Why do you think the dispute has happened? Instead of consulting meaningfully with workers the council is railroading through cuts based on mismanagement of the service. Unite has proof that these cuts are being driven by an overspend for the 2016/17 financial year, previously thought to be £9.7 million in the waste management service. It has been subsequently confirmed by a top council boss that the figure is closer to £11.9 million. This contradicts the authority’s previous press statements that these cuts were due to budget cuts and austerity measures.

2) Why do you think change is/isn’t necessary? If the council was serious about doing things more efficiently then it would have engaged and properly consulted with refuse workers and their union. The jobs which are being axed are safety critical at the back of bin lorries where rubbish is deposited. The council’s plans are driven by cuts and not a desire to do things better or more safely. We've never been slow to engage as we've done so in previous reorganisation in 2011 and 2014.

3) When did the talks start? Since 14 June ,Unite has made repeated attempts to negotiate a settlement. Most recently we met with council bosses last Wednesday and Thursday where we hoped we could agree a framework for meaningful talks. This attempt was thwarted by council bosses, who instead of attending planned talks on Monday morning withdrew from talks and began issuing 121 refuse worker with letters informing them that their jobs will no longer exist.

4) Will there be job losses? The council has informed 121 grade 3 refuse workers that their jobs will no longer exist. This is approximately 20 per cent of the refuse collection team. The workers affected typically work in a safety critical role at the rear of bin wagons. If they want to keep their job in the refuse service they will have to take a pay cut and drop a grade.

121
refuse workers may lose their jobs according to the union.

5) Will individual refuse collectors lose money? Yes, some face losing up to £4,000 to £6,000 per year dependant on where they are on the grade 3 pay scale.

6) Is it right that ‘partners’ should be called in at the weekend to clear some of the backlog? If the council do so they will break the law in that they shouldn't bring in extra staff to do our members work whilst we are in dispute. They'd be better off getting back round the table to sort this out than winding up the dispute and getting heavily fined for breaching legislation.

7) What do you think are the stumbling blocks for getting around the table and discussing? The belligerent attitude of waste service management bosses and their unwillingness to negotiate constructively. Instead of talking to refuse workers representatives, bosses have just ploughed ahead with changes which will see many lose their job or be forced to take a pay cut. They have also tried bullying and harassing staff to break the strike and only this morning all the trade unions have been threatened by senior council director by letter about the unions daring to take action to save jobs. Again they'd spend their time better actually getting round the table to sort this dispute out rather than inflaming tensions and agitating the dispute further.

Strike action is scheduled to take place over July and August. Credit: ITV News

Birmingham City Council wouldn't answer our questions directly, instead they sent this statement.

Birmingham City Council has repeated that it is completely willing to talk to Unite, which is currently staging disruptive industrial action in the refuse service, but it is disappointed at Unite’s stance - sending in notices for further action while in the middle of discussions aimed at resolving the dispute.

Corporate Director for Place 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.”

– Birmingham City Council

The council also provided links about the industrial action which can be read here and here.

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