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Bins dispute over, arguments far from finished

Bins dispute over, arguments far from finished

🕔27.Nov 2017

Birmingham’s bins dispute is finally over, but the arguments are far from finished, reports Kevin Johnson

An agreement was reached after Birmingham City Council’s cabinet agreed a deal on Friday, followed by members of Unite the union backing it on Saturday.

The key questions at the end of the dispute will be around the way the Council has handled the crisis, including the advice of officers and decison making of leading politicans; whether the council will deliver anywhere near the savings envisaged in future years and whether the cost this year has been worth it.

The Council’s current year budget remains in a challenging position, made worse by the cost of the dispute including its offer to pay Unite’s court costs, whilst questions remain over the potential of further equal pay claims.

On the face of it, the council lost its leader and the union has kept its members in their jobs.

Unite assistant general secretary Howard Beckett said:

This deal secures the grade three role 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 hard working 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.

Cllr Ian Ward, Leader of Birmingham City Council, said:

I made it clear that my top priority on becoming leader was to resolve this dispute – the disruption caused for the citizens of Birmingham has been completely unacceptable, and everyone recognises that.

This has always been about providing an efficient and effective refuse collection service for Birmingham, as that is what citizens rightly expect and deserve from us.

Neither the council or Unite wanted things to escalate in the way they did, so I am pleased that through quiet, open and honest dialogue we have been able to reach a legally-sound position, going through the correct governance processes that we must always follow.

The new Waste Reduction and Collection Officer roles we have jointly developed within our collection teams will focus on delivering a key element of the city’s waste strategy, the improvement of our recycling rate and raising awareness amongst citizens about how they can play their part in reducing the amount of waste we generate in the first place.

But his predecessor as leader, Cllr John Clancy, tweeted:

A statement from the opposition Conservative group, said:

221 days of formal dispute with the Unions and a summer of misery for Birmingham residents, which left 22 double decker buses worth of rubbish a week across Birmingham’s streets, Labour run Birmingham City Council has given in to Union demands putting council finances at severe risk and rendering the chaos of the summer completely unnecessary.

The bin dispute hinged on the deletion of over 100 Grade 3 ‘Leading Hand’ roles working on waste collection, to be replaced with an equivalent number of Grade 2 posts that were, the council claimed, more appropriate to the level of job required.

A behind doors deal allegedly struck by former Leader John Clancy then became the subject of expensive court action as Unite the Union tried to force the Council to back a deal that senior finance and legal officers warned was unaffordable and illegal.

With Court action due to start again [today] the Council have now seemingly caved in to those Union demands with all Leading Hands now being offered posts working on the same lorries at Grade 3.

Councillor Robert Alden, Leader of the Conservative Group on Birmingham City Council said:

Of course the Council are only in this position because the former Leader left the Council in a situation which put them at substantial risk of losing legal action.

Keen to avoid this, and also to avoid having to air all their dirty laundry in public via the courts, the Council have now had to settle on something it previously ruled out all because of the failure of the Labour administration to take decisions properly.

It is now clear next year’s waste budget will be significantly overspent and no doubt this is the justification Labour will use for their planned introduction of fortnightly refuse collections from 2019 or earlier.

He continued:

221 days after the commencement of the formal dispute with Unite – a dispute the former Leader described as two sides of the Labour movement in the City arguing with one another – the residents of Birmingham have been left with a bill of at least £6.6m for a dispute that could have been settled much earlier if all they were going to do was to give in to the demands of the Union.

Referring to September’s meeting of Full Council, where the bin dispute was also discussed, Councillor Randal Brew, Deputy Leader of the Conservative Group said:

The portfolio holder for waste, Councillor Lisa Trickett told the chamber that it was not acceptable to have afforded too much power to a small group of men just because they have the industrial muscle to leave rubbish on our streets and she referred to the number of female workers in libraries and social care who have left the council without being afforded the same chance to change the direction of change and improvement purely in order to save their own jobs.

Today you have to wonder how those former employees are feeling when they see her back track on this stance in an attempt to save her own political career.

Referring to the details contained in the report that was tabled late at Friday’s Cabinet meeting, Councillor Robert Alden said:

There is no way that such a substantial report could have been properly considered by Cabinet before they agreed it.

There are serious implications arising from the proposals and yet the report was late and incomplete.

Cabinet are making a decision which could have profound implications for the future of council finances and it is simply not acceptable for it to be made in this way. We need a Council that the City can be proud of, today once again takes us further away from that.

Councillor Jon Hunt, leader of the Liberal Democrat group, Birmingham City Council, said:

The proposals to settle the Birmingham bin dispute agreed by city cabinet…are quite clearly a fudge.

Whilst it’s very welcome that there seems to be a settlement of the bin dispute and there won’t be a messy court case [this] week, this was  a situation that was badly mishandled from the start by the city’s Labour leadership and has cost the city millions of pounds – some £6.6 million during the dispute, and, according to our estimates, at least £1 million from this settlement.

It is clear this settlement is only necessary because of the actions of former council leader John Clancy in August.

The settlement proposes the creation of a force of more than 100 “wheelie bin police” from the existing refuse collection workforce.

It is expected these posts will be filled by the grade 3 leading hands in the existing crews. From the private section of the cabinet discussion, it is clear there are huge questions about this deal, about its cost and about how waste collection will operate in the future – and we will certainly review the situation, should we be in a position to do so following next year’s council elections.

One of the big questions is why a trade union such as Unite should focus on securing “gold-plated”  treatment for one section of the workforce when thousands of other capable council workers have had to give up their jobs in recent years.

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