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Unite welcomes High Court judge’s observations in Birmingham bins case
Hajera Blagg, Thursday, February 14th, 2019

The High Court said that a full trial must be held as quickly as possible as Unite sought an injunction against Birmingham City Council for breaking a 2017 agreement that ended a long-running bin dispute.


At a preliminary hearing yesterday (February 13), the High Court found that it was not able to give an interim injunction until the final hearing.


Unite assistant general secretary Howard Beckett said the union welcomed “the observations of the judge to the effect that ‘although it is not for him to decide on the merits of the case, that the councils arguments have difficulty’.


“The court today sent a clear message to the Council that the union has the better arguments and can expect to achieve an injunction at the full hearing,” he said.


“Unite believes that the trial will fully reveal how Birmingham council has been in breach of the agreement, for a number of months, that all bin lorries must have a safety critical worker in attendance when they are operating,” Beckett added. “Birmingham council’s decision to undermine the High Court agreement is jeopardising the safety of residents and workers alike.”


Beckett went on to say that because there was no immediate injunction, the union’s only option now is to consult with reps and members about escalating industrial action “in order to ensure workers are no longer being placed in danger.


“If Birmingham council does not give an immediate assurance that it will abide by the 2017 agreement and restore safety critical staff to all bin lorries, Unite will be forced to ballot for industrial action on this matter.”


An injunction is being sought against a backdrop of  Unite members taking industrial action from December when it came to light that in the 2017 dispute, GMB members who did not take strike action were given thousands of pounds in bonus payments, in effect being rewarded for not striking. Unite has argued that this is a form of blacklisting. It has also emerged that the council is further discriminating against Unite members by repeatedly turning down their holiday requests.


Action started with work-to-rule and an overtime ban from December 29. During this time, Unite believes the council broke the 2017 agreement that ensured there were safety-critical bin loaders at the back of bin vehicles.


At present, from Tuesday (February 19), Birmingham bin workers will escalate their industrial action from work-to-rule and an overtime ban to strike action, downing tools for two days each week until the end of March unless an agreement can be achieved through Acas.


In the meantime, Unite is pursuing legal claims through the employment tribunal over the payments made to GMB members.


Ahead of yesterday’s High Court hearing, Beckett slammed the council’s payments to non-striking bin workers as a “disgraceful practice of discrimination” one that he said “instinctively a Labour council should reject”.


“Instead we have a Labour council hiding from the truth and attempting to threaten our members in the settlement rather than resolve this with parity in the workplace.”

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