Unite bin workers, took seven weeks of strike action throughout July and August in defiance of council plans to shed 120 refuse staff – 20 per cent of the workforce – and cut wages by up to £5,000 a year.
Councillor Lisa Trickett, BCC Cabinet Member for Clean Streets, Recycling and Environment ( Labour member for Moseley and Kings Heath), said:
‘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.’
Unite Assistant General Secretary Howard Beckett rebutted:
‘The council claims alternative grade-three jobs are available, but this is disingenuous. Most of those jobs are on fixed-termrather than permanent contracts – and many of them need ITskills, hardly suitable for the people whose jobs are being downgraded. It’s simply not the case that these workers can just switch to a different job to maintain their pay.’
On 15 August Unite reached an honourable agreement with Birmingham City Council lead by Leader Councillor John Clancy. The Council accepted the refuse workers’ case and restored the grade 3 jobs, which are responsible for the safety at the rear of the refuse vehicles. This agreement was reached via ACAS whose director Malcolm Boswell announced:
‘ACAS can confirm that an agreement was reached by Birmingham City Council and Unite the union on 15th August 2017 following discussions at ACAS. The terms of the agreement were made public by ACAS at the request of both parties in a press release agreed with both parties.’
Strike action was suspended and Unite members vigorously began a great clear up.
Talks were due to resume on 1 September. Instead meetings were cancelled .Interim Chief Executive Manzie confirmed that the Council issued back dated redundancy notices to the Unite members .The notices contained humiliating terms. Ms Manzie is a Government appointee ,paid around £180,000 per year plus expenses. Her last employer, Rotherham, incurred around £160,000 annual expenses from her.
‘the Council has taken the view that in order to protect its legal and financial position it has needed to issue redundancy notices.’
It is suggested that there were equal pay problems which arise from the 15 August agreement. However no such problems were particularised and the suggestion was questioned in the strongest possible terms by Unite.
Clancy faced a vote of no confidence, having been elected Leader by a single vote against his Blairite rival. It must be remembered that Clancy oversaw some improvements in Council policy and services, including the construction of homes. He resigned.
Unite obtained a High Court injunction to prevent the redundancy notices taking effect. The Council was ordered to pay legal costs. The matter was listed for a full hearing on 27th November 2017
On 25th November 2017 the dispute was concluded with an agreement under which with the honourable terms agreed in August were ratified, albeit in different terms:
*All 109 leading hands will retain their grade 3 status and salary
*The ‘leading hand’ title will be abolished and replaced by a new ‘Waste Reduction and Collection’ role (WRCO), retaining safety responsibilities as well as communications with residents
*Each refuse wagon will have a team of driver, at least one loader and a WRCO – for crew and public and public safety
*Guaranteed protection against redundancies and any role changes for at least 12 months from the start of implementation
*Any future changes to waste collection services will be agreed by a joint ‘Service Improvement Board established jointly between BCC and the unions
Howard Beckett led the dispute. He stated:
‘This deal secures the grade three posts and protects the pay of workers who faced losing thousands of pounds. It is a victory for common sense and a victory for the people of Birmingham who no longer need worry about the disruption of industrial action. This deal, which protects the livelihoods of hardworking refuse workers ,would not have been possible without the determination and solidarity of Unite members. Rather than rolling over, they stood firm through thick and thin to defend their jobs and the service they provide to the city of Birmingham. The stand that Birmingham’s refuse workers took and the victory they have secured should be an inspiration to others right across the trade union movement.’
The Council paid private contractors to inefficiently deal with clear-up during the strike It paid unnecessary legal costs. It made the Council unpopular. It diverted resources from fighting the Tories. The money wasted could have been used to save frontline services for the young and elderly.
Momentum is proud to have stood with the bin workers. Mosely and Kings Heath ward Labour Party passed a motion supporting the dispute and held a members’ collection. Hall Green CLP supported the bin workers. Birmingham TUC established a support committee. Unite branches gave generous donations. The success of the dispute is due to the intelligent refuse workers, their principled Unite leadership and the support of the Movement.
Islwyn Ffowc Elis