As Birmingham bin workers prepare for strike action from Tuesday (February 19), Birmingham City Council faced Unite this morning (February 13) at a preliminary High Court hearing in London.
The union is seeking an injunction to force the council to abide by an agreement hammered out in 2017 that ended a long-running dispute, which Unite says the council has now broken.
Industrial action among Birmingham bin workers was reignited in December, after 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 – a move Unite argues 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, the council broke the 2017 agreement that ensured there were safety-critical bin loaders at the back of bin vehicles.
Speaking ahead of today’s court case, Unite assistant general secretary Howard Beckett said, “Incredibly we find ourselves back in the High Court in London against Birmingham City Council in breach of an agreement in 2017 where they recognised the importance of safety of being at the back of the bins – a loader being the eyes and the ears of the driver as tonnes of vehicle are reversed around schools, hospitals and residential areas.”
Beckett said that the council has reneged on the agreement during the latest wave of industrial action “by sending out vehicles without safety at the back of the bins – recklessly endangering the lives of our members and recklessly endangering the lives of the people of Birmingham”.
Branding the council’s actions a “disgrace” he said today’s High Court case was about “ensuring [the council] keeps safety at the forefront of bin collection in Birmingham”.
Beckett went on to slam the council for “discriminating against Unite members, paying those that did not go on strike in 2017 bonuses over and above those who took industrial action.
“It’s a disgraceful practice of discrimination – one that instinctively a Labour council should reject,” he said. “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.”
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 workers.
Last minute peace talks meant to avert next week’s series of walkouts collapsed within minutes yesterday (February 12) after the council put forward an offer that was worse than a previous offer which Unite had deemed unacceptable.
Beckett said that it was clear that Birmingham council “has one agenda which is to provoke strike action, which will cause misery for the city’s residents”.
He went on to say that “the council officers’ agenda is not to resolve this dispute but instead to challenge Unite’s collective organisation in Birmingham. The people of Birmingham should blame the council for the inevitable escalation of industrial action.”