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Birmingham waste service workers vote to strike

Birmingham New Street station

The Unite union has said 90% of its refuse worker members at Birmingham City Council are in favour of a walk-out, as the council denies that 122 jobs are to be axed.

The union claimed proposed job cuts would mean around a fifth of the entire waste service workforce would be lost. It also warned the cuts are in “safety sensitive” areas.

But a spokesperson for the council said it was not true jobs were being cut, and that the authority was still in discussions over downgrading job descriptions of some bin crew operatives. In addition, it plans to change the working week from a four-day nine-hour shifts to five-day seven-and-a-half hours.

The council also said the proposals would in fact lead to more full-time-equivalent posts being created.

A ballot on industrial action was taken amid claims of council financial mismanagement of the service.

The union said the council wanted to “tear up long-standing agreements with the union covering staffing levels and working patterns”.

Unite regional officer Lynne Shakespeare said: “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.

“The loss of jobs in this area is a disgrace as bosses continue to increase recruiting agency workers – there appears to be no coherent workplace planning by the council.

“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.

“The management can’t keep to a budget, having created a huge £9.7m overspend in the financial year for 2016.

“We are currently consulting with our 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.”

Lisa Trickett, the council’s cabinet member for clean streets, recycling and environment, said there had been a “genuine attempt” to reach agreement and that it had consulted on the new service for twice the length of the statutory requirement.

“We are very disappointed by the result of the ballot, taken by just one of the unions representing the waste collection workforce,” she said.

“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.

“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. 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.”

  • This story was updated at 5pm to include comment from Birmingham City Council

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