Fresh strikes in long-running Birmingham bin dispute

Bin workers in Birmingham are going on strike in a dispute over alleged “secret payments” to some staff in the city.

The industrial action by Unite concerns a row about the alleged cash handouts made to staff at the union GMB, who did not take part in 2017 strikes.

The 2017 walkouts, starting in June and lasting three months, were triggered by an announcement of job losses.

It caused widespread disruption for residents, who were left with rubbish piled in the city’s streets.

But at the picket lines on Tuesday, Unite bosses alleged that the “secret payments” made last year by Birmingham City Council represented “discrimination” against its members.

Birmingham bin men industrial dispute
The 2017 bin strikes left piles of uncollected rubbish building up across Birmingham (Aaron Chown/PA)

However, the Labour-controlled council said the cash sum paid to GMB members was only made because it failed to properly consult them during the talks that concluded the 2017 dispute.

The local authority said it has made a reciprocal offer to Unite to take to its members, but talks through conciliation service Acas broke down last week without agreement.

Unite has called the latest industrial action, which will see 10 days of strikes over five weeks – starting Tuesday – a “last resort”.

More than 300 workers are set to walk out.

Members of Unison are also due to go on strike, starting Friday.

Picket lines will be running, two days a week, at four council depots between 5am and 2pm, Unite said.

Meanwhile, council chiefs have told residents a temporary fortnightly bin collection service will be operating from the start of this week, in a bid to avoid the return of 2017’s unsightly rubbish piles.

Council bosses have said that it may mean rubbish and recycling being disposed of together, on occasion, “to keep the streets clean”.

Unite assistant general secretary Howard Beckett, speaking from the picket line, said: “In November 2017, the last dispute settled, and Unite members were among members who took strike action.

“But they found out late last year that in June 2018 the council had made secret payments to people who did not take action.

“The council has not treated our members equally.

“On one hand, it has said the payments were justified, but also said that they would make offers up to £3,000 to our members.

Birmingham bin men industrial dispute
Howard Beckett, assistant general secretary of Unite, said the strike action was a last resort (Aaron Chown/PA)

“Where is the logic in that? Our members haven’t been made an equivalent offer.”

The difference between the local authority’s current offer and what the union is asking for, for members, is £600, according to Unite.

He claimed the council was “prepared to put the people of Birmingham to obvious disruption” over the dispute.

Mr Beckett claimed that the council’s offer to settle the dispute was rejected by the union at the Acas talks, because the council had gone “backwards” from a previous offer.

He also said that since the breakdown of talks “nobody has tried” from the council to get in touch.

The council has urged Unite to continue talks, adding its offer stands.

Tensions have been building through this year, after Unite members introduced work-to-rule on December 29.

Mr Beckett said “It’s a matter of last resort, we’ve been forced into this.”

He added: “I don’t believe this council has the necessary leadership.

“It’s bleak. It is sending a clear message to Labour councillors, and saying ‘is the leadership of this council up to the task or not?’.

“Do they have the moral backbone to stand up?

“Frankly, if they’re not up to the job, they should step aside.”

Waste collections: Starting today we move to fortnightly bin collections as a temporary measure during industrial action. Full details: https://t.co/yMafTJjilLpic.twitter.com/tHH3fJa3fn

— Bham City Council (@BhamCityCouncil) February 18, 2019

A city council spokesman said: “We have made it very clear that the payments to GMB members at the root of this dispute were made as a result of a failure to consult by the council during the negotiations that ended the 2017 dispute.

“They were not payments for working during the industrial action.”

The council added: “As stated previously, we have put a reasonable offer on the table to end this dispute.

“We’d urge the trades unions to put this to their members so they can give it the serious consideration it deserves.

“We need to get back to the task of providing a service that citizens expect and deserve.”

A special cabinet council meeting to discuss the bin dispute is due to take place this week.