If you live in Birmingham at the moment you’ll already know a lot about the Binmen strike. Even if you’re outside of Birmingham you may have seen coverage on the National News or Newspapers.
On facebook and twitter I’ve been speaking up about it, but as thing’s get lost pretty quickly on those platforms, I thought it was probably about time I did a blog post about it and had a reference point for the months/years to come, when Birmingham is buried under it’s rubbish and I can’t get out my front door.
Just before you carry on reading, I support the bin strike. This bin strike is much deeper than so called non skilled workers making a living. People who shout out loud about how these people should be sacked, and replaced by people happy to work the wage, or by contracting out the service, are the same people who do no research into things and how it could effect them further down the line *cough* Brexit *cough* if you have friends and family that work for the council, this dispute is massively important, because the bin men won’t be the last people in the council, to see their wages put ‘in line’
More departments & roles, will see wage cuts or redundancies. Austerity is really now taking it’s toll on this City. For almost 10 years now this country has been making cuts after cuts after cuts to public services, and now they are coming after your wages.
Birmingham City Council, like many other Councils across the country have to make major cuts. When it comes to refuse, it’s worth noting that Birmingham City Council already stopped green collections about 3 years ago. If you want your garden waste collected, you have to pay for the privilege. It’s not massively expensive, approx £35 a year, but remember that’s only for 7 months of the year.
Birmingham is known for having a bit of a rat problem anyway, but it won’t be helped by the fact many families that are in poverty are not going to pay for garden waste collections, meaning yet more of Birmingham’s gardens are now an overgrown mess and dumping ground for junk that don’t fit in the wheely bin. Sadly you only have to go as far as looking outside my upstairs back window to see the state of some of the gardens by me. Combined with laziness and having to pay, people are not going to maintain their gardens.
Me, I take mine to the tip, it’s also a good excuse to get there every so often and de-clutter the house, but again, not everyone has a car, especially those on the poverty ladder. One good thing Birmingham City Council has spent money on, is web enabled cameras at the entrance of each tip, so you can have a look at the length of the queue before you set off. Obviously, no use to anyone who doesn’t have a car.
So let’s get to the nitty gritty, why are Birmingham’s bin men striking.
This actually dates back as far as January this year, and in excess of 20 meetings have already happened between the council and unions. Yes, over 20, and we still managed to end up in a strike situation.
Birmingham City Council (BCC from here on) have refused to budge. The Bin men went hugely over budget last year, but gave them an extra budget of over £5m for this year.
The main problem, has been the plans to make ~113 jobs redundant. These class 3 workers are deemed as supervisor operators at the back of the truck, and are planned to be replaced with people on lower grades as just normal loaders. Now this is the first problem for me. If a job is to be made redundant, then there is no need for that job. However the council have made is quite clear they intend to continue having such operators, but on less pay. Hell they’ve even been advertising the jobs on the council website as recently as this week. This makes no sense, and is surely a court case in the making, and is a massive no no from me. It just stinks (no pun intended) and is a totally shitty thing to do.
BCC say by doing this they can modernise the bin service and save £5m a year. Erm, you just gave them an extra £5m a year??? Make your mind up!
These workers have been offered other jobs in the council on the same grade. Fair enough, I have no problem with that, but many of the bin men feel they wouldn’t be able to keep those jobs for long due to their lack of expertise in the roles, or that some of the roles were not permanent positions, so was another sneaky way of making them redundant again further down the line.
The other option, is to remain a bin man, but on the lower grade, in some cases this could be a wage drop of almost £5000 a year. FIVE THOUSAND POUNDS A YEAR. Regardless of how skilled you are, how would you take to being asked to take such a massive drop in wages to essentially do the exact same job! I think you’d also probably tell your employer where to go!
Of course the flip to all this is if the Unions are successful, are the lower grade workers, then going to complain about their wages for essentially doing the same job!!
Just to clarify:
- Driver Team Leader – £29,323 (agency rate £10.50 ph)
- Leading hand – £21,962 (agency rate £10.50 ph)
- Loader – £17,072 (agency rate £8.45 ph)
So yeah, working on the bins in Birmingham is a pretty well paid job, even at £17k for an essentially unskilled worker.
So fast forward to May, and union members were asked to ballot, and not surpringsly they balloted to strike.
The strike began on June 30th. Originally starting with 2 hour strikes daily. In July that was increased to 3 hours a day. In August the 3 hour stikes were then more spaced out throughout the day.
Talks continued with Unite & BCC with ACAS, a Government body which helps employers and trade unions come to agreements on their disputes.
BCC remained firm, and it looked like Unite would be asking their members to ballot again to potentially striking all the way to the end of year. At this point rubbish was already starting to pile up around the city and major complaints to the council from residents were on the increase.
On August 16, a breakthrough was made, Unite were so confident of their victory, they released the following press release. Confident they had secured the jobs of the redundancy threatened bin men and their wage, with Unite advising the bin men that they should accept the councils proposals for changing the working hours. Changing from a four-day week of just over nine hours a day, to a five-day week of just over seven hours a day.
Unite press release
Immediate release: Wednesday 16 August 2017
Unite hails victory in Birmingham bin dispute
Unite, the country’s largest union, today (Wednesday 16 August) said that it has achieved victory in the Birmingham bin dispute which will result in the suspension of the current industrial action.
The union said that the city council had accepted the refuse workers’ case and restored the grade 3 jobs, which are responsible for the safety at the rear of the refuse vehicles.
Normal collection of bins will resume, as Unite and the city council hold further talks under the auspices of the conciliation service, Acas to resolve the outstanding issues.
Unite assistant general secretary Howard Beckett said: “We are very pleased that we have reached the stage where we can suspend the industrial action while we hold further talks about the future of the refuse service.
“I know this news will be greatly welcomed by the people of Birmingham as they look forward to their bins being collected again on a regular and seamless basis. I would like to thank them for their understanding over recent weeks.
“Unite will suspend the current round of industrial action that was due to run until 21 September to create a conducive climate for the talks to proceed smoothly. Our members will be working normally.
“I would like to pay tribute to the city council leader Cllr John Clancy who has worked very hard and travelled the extra mile to achieve this solution, despite the reservations of some top council officials.
“The council has addressed our members’ concerns, including the safeguarding of the grade 3 post that is vital to the safety at the rear of the refuse vehicles. Unite also welcomes the fact that our suspended rep is now returning to work
“Unite recognises – and deplores – that local government in England has suffered swingeing cuts to its funding since the Tories came to power in 2010.
“Finally, I would like to thank our members for the solidarity they have shown in defence of a decent and well-resourced refuse collection in Birmingham, and their stand against job cuts and massive cuts to their wages.
“We will be entering into these Acas talks in a constructive and positive fashion – and recognise that there is still much hard work to be done.”
The terms of today’s agreement include Birmingham city council cabinet members agreeing in principle that the grade 3 posts will be maintained and, consequently, there are no redundancy steps in place.
In addition, the parties will now look to discuss, through Acas, how the service can be improved, with the intention of improving efficiencies in performance of the bin collection service generally, including what savings can be made, and specifically how best the current grade 3 roles can now be maintained and developed so that they take forward the ambition to deliver cleaner streets and align to wider ‘Total Place’ principles.
Unite has also agreed in principle to recommend to its members work pattern changes, including consideration of a five-day working week. Both parties agree the working week should be designed to maximise service delivery.
These discussions will be with the intention of incorporating any agreement as an amendment to the Waste Management Service cabinet report in September 2017.
Notes to editors:
For more information please contact Unite senior communications officer Shaun Noble on 020 3371 2060 or 07768 693940. Unite press office is on: 020 3371 2065
Everyone was happy, rubbsh started to be collected properly again, but it wasn’t long before everyone was back knee deep in their own rubbish.
A council meeting to discuss the proposals on the 24th August – never even took place. Postponed until September 1st. That meeting never took place either, and then BCC issued another press release saying it was going to issue the redundances the following day as originally planned.
Wow, so how are you ever supposed to trust your councillers when they can’t even attend their own meetings, and then just decide ‘screw it, make them redundant anyway’
Council leader John Clancy, proclaimed no deal had ever been agreed.
This has been rebuked by skwawkbox.org who have obtained an email sent by Clancy, as seen here:
More information on that and how the BCC continue to fumble over this matter can be read here
So, we’re back with the bin men on strike yet again, and potentially until the new year. The City is going to look great if this is not resolved by Christmas. Oh and there’s a bid to host the commonwealth games going on as well. Which may actually work to the binmens favour, time will tell. Currently the bin men’s strike pattern is 3-hour stoppages spaced across shifts, taking place daily at 07.00, 10.30 and 13.00.
SUPPORT THE BIN MEN:
Tuesday 12/09 @12.30 Victoria Square Brum.
Rally to support binmen to coincide with the first full council meeting since the strike re-started
Sunday 17/09 @11.00am Victoria Square Brum.
Mass demo (stage and speakers job)
Offical strike Twitter account
All Unite offices in the West Midlands will start food banks for striking bin men. Please support if you can.
BCC trolling it’s residents on Twitter on the day strikes started back up, with a #cleanerbrum hashtag:
— Bham City Council (@BhamCityCouncil) September 1, 2017
UPDATE 10th September: A BCC council manager leaked an internal email detailing how they are being asked to circulate email to their workers asking if they would like to scab the binmen (aka strikebreakers). Not only that, anyone interested must go for training which will be done on the time of their existing department. How much will this further impact the council in time and money spent on training these casual bin workers, and not only that, how much will it then impact other council teams. Obviously a bit of extra coin in the pocket may appeal to some, but I would like to think no BCC employees would even dare to take this on and assist BCC in fundamentally scabbing their own colleagues. This in my eyes is another shambles of a response to this issue by BCC and we really are now getting to a point where some councillors must seriously consider their positions.
— Labour Lives (@labour_lives) September 8, 2017
It’s also worth noting the day after I published this post nine Labour MPS in the region sent an open letter to council leader John Clancy to resolve the issue ASAP.
The letter in full:
Bin workers deserve justice on pay but so too do the citizens of Birmingham deserve clean streets when they leave their houses in the morning and in future a high-quality service. Three weeks ago, under the auspices of ACAS, agreement was reached whereby industrial action was suspended and a way forward identified to find a lasting settlement. Key to the making of progress was the establishment of a common understanding on whether or not there are equal pay issues and if so on what scale.
Last week, following a week’s delay, preliminary discussions commenced with Officers of the Council, Jacqui Kennedy and Angela Probert and it was hoped that the meeting on establishing a common understanding on the equal pay issues would take place in time for negotiations to resume last Thursday 31st August. Then, out of the blue, the Chief Executive of the council, Stella Manzie wrote to the unions serving redundancy notices. It was extraordinary that in her letter she actually said “I know that you will be surprised that this given the nature of the discussions Angela Probert and Jacqui Kennedy have been having with you this week.”
That led to a resumption of industrial action but within 24 hours upon our request ACAS identified a process to take place this week, initially of lawyers establishing whether or not there is a common understanding on the equal pay issues and then, hopefully, resumed negotiations today, Thursday. The Council then wrote yesterday, Wednesday, delaying that meeting until 11th September. The delay to talks to settle this dispute is unacceptable. So too is the apparent refusal by the Council to answer straight questions on equal pay. Further, the proposal to exclude ACAS from the next stage discussions is inexplicable given that ACAS has offered to provide an independent third-party by way of an equal pay expert to help reach that common understanding.
Our City now runs the risk of the dispute dragging on for weeks and months to come. That cannot be right. All parties need as a matter of urgency to focus on the reaching of an agreement which is just and which ensures the provision of that high-quality service that the people of Birmingham are entitled to. Those necessary negotiations under your auspices and that of the Cabinet will need to involve the appropriate Officers of the Council so that all outstanding issues can be resolved. But we have to say that right now the Council is an obstacle to moving forward to secure that agreement and an end to the dispute.– BIRMINGHAM MPS
UPDATE 12th September: Birmingham City Council leader John Clancy has resigned due to his handling of the dispute, there are now also calls for Stella Manzie to do the same. You can read John Clancy’s official statement here
UPDATE – 27th September: A little late with updating the article, so apologies. Exactly a week ago on the 20th September, a case was heard over the previous 2 days as Unite took Birmingham City Council to court believing the Council must uphold the deal it agreed with ACAS, while the Council countered it had not agreed to anything.
Mr Justice Fraser A High Court judge has spoken of an “extraordinary” and “astonishing” state of affairs at Birmingham City Council, and properly laid into them. He spoke of “chaos” between senior personnel and said councillors and officers were “positively working against one another” at times.
Whilst the Judge said neither side came out of this smelling rosey (He didn’t actually say that, I added it for dramatisation) he sided with Unite and a full trial is now set for November. Unite have agreed to halt strike action pending the outcome of the trial.
The good news for residents is that bin collections, will slowly return to normal. Over the next 4 weeks, which should lead us into November, the council plans collections of once every two weeks for each area, in order to clean up the City. Hopefuly by the start of November we will then return back to weekly collections, at least until we know what the final outcome is of the trial above.
Good luck bin men!