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Inter-union row brings refuse strike back to Birmingham

A dispute between two trade unions has seen Birmingham’s waste collection service hit by industrial action just over a year since a lengthy strike was settled.

Just before Christmas, Birmingham City Council launched a contingency plan for waste collections, under which residents receive one collection a week of all waste types. The council advised residents to use their recycling and residual bins as normal but warned they might not be collected on the expected day.

Collectors will not do overtime, will keep to contractual start and finish times and return to work bases for washing facilities after each break.

This latest disruption is linked to the four-month 2017 strike, which began that July.

A minority of refuse workers belong to the GMB union, which successfully argued at the conciliation service Acas that the council had failed to consult it on the eventual settlement it reached with the larger Unite union.

GMB members were paid compensation for this omission under a deal with union reached with the council.

But Unite has now objected that this amounted to rewarding GMB members with “several thousand pounds” each for not going on strike.

More than 300 Unite collectors voted 94% in favour of strike action and 97% for action short of a strike.

Unite assistant general secretary Howard Beckett said: “This is an overwhelming ballot result that shows our refuse collection members are not prepared to be discriminated against, compared with another group of workers who received thousands of pounds for not taking part in last year’s dispute.”

He added: “This was blatant blacklisting – an attempt by the council to prefer workers in a union that did not take industrial action.”

Last year’ strike has also returned to haunt the council in an investigation report by law firm VWV into the circumstances in which then Labour council leader John Clancy reached a settlement with Unite.

This saw Birmingham withdraw redundancy notices issued to more than 100 workers, who would be ’assimilated’ into a new waste reduction and collection officer role, remaining on the same pay grade but taking on additional responsibilities for increasing recycling.

VWV’s report said Clancy “did not have the authority by himself to make the agreement of [the settlement] with Unite” because he did not have his cabinet’s authority, while a subsequent ‘informal’ cabinet meeting “did not have the authority to ratify that agreement”.

The report said proper governance processes were not followed, and there may have been breaches of both the Councillor Code of Conduct and the Nolan principles of public service, and that Birmingham should consider whether the rare offence of misfeasance in public office had occurred.

A council statement said: “The council has considered the findings of the review and obtained advice from an independent QC on any potential civil or criminal proceedings. They have advised there is no merit in either being pursued.”

Deputy monitoring officer Robert Connelly said: “We are absolutely committed to learning from what happened during the summer of 2017 and we have already put a range of measures in place to make our governance and decision making more robust.”


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