I’ve been working for Birmingham’s refuse service for over 15 years now, or the ‘bins’ as me and my mates call it. I say mates because that’s what my colleagues are. We’re a close knit bunch doing a hard and dirty job serving the people of Birmingham.
The day starts early at 6 am and finishes at about 25 minutes to four in the afternoon. Its fast paced. We have a target of 100 houses an hour to meet. We offer a door to wagon service, not something that all councils do.
Rather than picking your rubbish up at the kerbside we walk up your path, grab your wheelie bin from outside your house and return it once we’ve emptied it into the wagon. We also take any bin bags left to the side of the bin, we know other councils charge for this. It’s the same with the recycling too, which we do in separate rounds.
It can be mucky and difficult at times, but we take pride in the vital service we provide. Often taken for granted, bin and waste collection is a statutory duty for all councils.
So it was very much the last resort when my colleagues and I decided to take industrial action. Birmingham council wants to cut 120 grade three jobs on the bin wagons in its latest cost cutting exercise.
Over the years we’ve seen a greater use of workers on insecure zero hours agency contracts and in 2011 the council cut the number on a wagon from five down to three. Our pay has plummeted in real terms too, along with other colleagues at the council. So much so, I’ve heard of people who have re-mortgaged their home to help make ends meet.
The council has said the latest cost cutting exercise is about working practices and that no one will be made redundant. That, excuse the pun, is rubbish. I’m a grade three and if I want to keep my job in the refuse service I’ll have to take a pay cut of £5,000 and be bumped down a grade. That’s roughly a 24 per cent pay cut to my £21,000 salary.
I’ve got two young kids, a mortgage and bills to pay. My wife works, but it will be a struggle to make ends meet and see us cutting back on everything bar the essentials. If I’m going to struggle, I fear for my colleagues whose wage is the only income in their household.
The council has tried to gloss over all this with the public, by saying there are jobs elsewhere in council on the same grade that us grade threes can apply for. But this is totally bogus. Many of the jobs are totally unsuited to my skills and some are on fixed term contracts of little more than year. If I wanted to work in housing services I would have gone for a job there, rather than the bins when I applied to the council 15 years ago.
It is redundancy exercise via the back door pure and simple, aimed at cutting a few hundred thousand pounds and one which could jeopardise safety too.
You see, the job me and my colleagues do is safety critical, monitoring the back of the wagon and operating the machinery that munches up your waste.
The council says drivers can monitor the back of the wagon via CCTV, but in the recent past we’ve had two incidents at the rear of a wagon. It’s only because someone was monitoring and working at the back of the wagon that serious injury or a fatality was avoided.
So, I hope you can put yourself in my shoes and understand why we’re taking strike action. We don’t want to see rubbish piling up in the streets or inconvenience to the people we serve. After all, the people inconvenienced are our friends, our families and our communities. We want to solve this dispute, but bosses need to hear our concerns.
Until then we will continue to stand up for our livelihoods and the jobs we love to do.
This comment first appeared in The Guardian