‘Shoddy’ behaviour by Birmingham council has led to a fresh ballot of the city’s refuse workers, Unite announced on Friday (September 1).
The union was shocked by the council’s last minute cancellation of a promised meeting of the council cabinet on Thursday called to discuss a joint union and council proposal aimed at resolving the dispute, rapidly followed by the issuing of redundancy notices to 100 workers, which both parties had agreed would not happen, and now efforts to undermine the recent agreement reached via the conciliatory service, ACAS.
Refuse workers who are members of Unite resumed industrial action on Friday in protest at the council’s alarming actions and failure to uphold the negotiated settlement.
Friday’s announcement of a re-ballot could mean industrial action and dirty streets could extend until 2018.
Announcing the fresh ballot, Unite assistant general secretary Howard Beckett said, “The council has given us no choice but to seek another mandate for action from our members.
“The past 24 hours have been extraordinary and totally at odds with the agreement Unite reached with the council in good faith through the conciliation service Acas.
“Frankly, the council leadership and officers’ treatment of this workforce has been shoddy,” he added.
“We reached an honourable, sensible agreement, on which would have maintained the refuse service the second city needs and kept these workers off the breadline.
“It makes no sense at all for the council to seek to destroy this settlement and make our streets dirty again, quite possibly until the end of the year,” Beckett went on to say.
Adding insult to injury, later in the weekend, council leader John Clancy said that there was never an agreement with the union in the first place.
“There was no deal – there was an agreement in principle,” Clancy told the Birmingham Mail.
But his claims were undermined by an email Clancy sent which was leaked to the news site Skwawkbox. In the email, Clancy confirmed that a deal had been reached.
“I am writing to let you know that Birmingham City Council took the decision last night to support the compromise which had been negotiated through Acas…,” Clancy wrote to depot managers.
“All of the terms of the compromise will be implemented…”, the email read. “This is a ‘key decision’ under the Council’s Constitution and thus falls to be made by the Cabinet. Officers of the council are required to act in accordance with cabinet decisions.”
Clancy’s claim that a deal was never made was further belied by a statement from the conciliation Acas.
“Acas can confirm that an agreement was reached between Birmingham City Council and Unite the Union on the 15th August 2017, following discussions at Acas,” Acas said. “The terms of the agreement were made public by Acas at the request of both parties, in a press release agreed with both parties.”
No confidence vote
Now Clancy is facing a formal vote of no confidence from two councillors as well as calls to resign from a third councillor.
But as Skwawkbox reports, the vote of no confidence is being levied against Clancy because the councillors claim that he had no power to reach an agreement. He is not being criticised for pretending the agreement does not exist in the first place and subsequently breaking it.
The leaked email, however, shows that Clancy was well within his powers – the council itself ratified the agreement.
Beckett urged Labour councillors to stand by the deal they first reached in good faith.
“Any Labour councillors who are wedded to cuts to the salaries of low paid workers are a disgrace,” he told Skwawkbox. “Those councillors are masquerading as Labour. Purely and simply, councillors need to stand up and say cutting wages is not the answer. They were elected on the promise of no more cuts and that is the Labour people voted for.
“John Clancy must answer for saying there is no deal but the council needs to admit it did ratify it and stand by it – and if it doesn’t, it needs to be honest and admit it’s going back on its decision,” he added.
“The council is disgracing itself. It publishes its ‘values’, which include keeping its word and acting courageously – it’s doing neither.”
In the meantime, Unite refuse workers will stand firm in their resolve, Beckett noted.
“Unite members do not want to strike but they are being forced down this route by the council’s destructive actions,” he said.
“Once again Unite appeals to the council to come to its senses. Respect the ACAS agreement and do the right thing by the workers and residents of Birmingham.”
Anti-trade union laws require unions to conduct a further ballot of the members concerned should there be failure to reach a settlement within the 12 weeks following the initial strike ballot.
The new ballot will open on Friday (September 8), and conclude on Monday (September 18).