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Workers consider strikes over claims of Birmingham council axing refuse jobs

Refuse workers at Birmingham City Council are considering taking industrial action against the authority after it claimed that 122 waste collection jobs will be cut in the next two weeks.

But the council stated it refutes this - arguing that the jobs are not going and the proposals, which are still out to consultation, will regrade the jobs the union refers to, with the offer of alternative roles at an existing grade being offered to a significant number of those affected by the change. 

At the end of May, PSE reported that a ballot had been opened by Unite into whether to take action over allegations of financial mismanagement by the council which had led to an overspend of £9.7m – prompting fear from union members that jobs could be slashed.

In the vote, union members voted overwhelmingly for strike action by 90% and action short of a strike by 93% over the cuts and attempts by council leaders to tear up agreements with Unite over staffing levels and working patterns.

And now, the likelihood of strike action has escalated as council bosses announced that they intended to make 122 waste collection staff redundant in the next fortnight, which amounts to 20% of the refuse collection squad.

“It is unfortunate that the day the ballot results came through, the council's waste management service announced it intended to make 122 waste collection staff redundant in two weeks’ time,” said Lynne Shakespeare, Unite regional officer.

“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.”

Shakespeare called the job losses a “disgrace” as council bosses continued to increase recruiting agency workers – leading Unite to believe there was no coherent workplace planning in place by the authority.

“We discovered during the farcical consultation that the management has been instructing our members to collect side waste (boxes and bags left beside the bins) even though it is not budgeted for; to collect ‘green’ waste from residents who have not paid for this service,” Shakespeare added.

“The management can’t keep to a budget, having created a huge £9.7m overspend in the financial year for 2016. The sad thing about this is that our members are going to pay the price for this incompetence with their jobs and the Birmingham taxpayers are picking up the tab for mismanagement of waste services.”

Shakespeare added that the union is consulting with members as to the next steps in regards to industrial action “as all of the 122 posts due to be cut are in safety sensitive areas, such as the operation and safety at the rear of the vehicles”.

However, Birmingham City Council said it was “very disappointed” by the result of the ballot, as it stated that it had consulted extensively with the unions on a new waste service model since the start of the year. 

"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," said Cllr Lisa Trickett, cabinet member for clean Streets, recycling and rnvironment at the council.

"Under our plans, alternative employment within the council will be offered for those affected, minimising the impact and stabilising and securing the workforce.

“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,” she added. 

“Without the changes we are proposing the council would need to find £10m extra per year to keep things as they are, potentially risking delivery of other unrelated services to citizens.

“We know that the efficiency of our crews that work four nine-hour days is not as good as that achieved by crews working five seven-and-a-half-hour days in other cities," Cllr Trickett continued. “If we can move into line with other councils we will help Birmingham save £4m a year, and deliver a better service for citizens. 

“The way Birmingham’s waste management service currently operates is no longer modern or efficient and does not offer best value for taxpayers.

“We urge the union to reconsider its stance on this issue as a matter of urgency.”

Top Image: Andrew Skudder

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