William Eichler 31 May 2017

Refuse collection workers threaten strikes in Birmingham

Refuse workers in Birmingham have started voting on strike action amid accusations of financial mismanagement and an overspend by the council of nearly £10m.

Unite has been involved in a consultation with managers of Birmingham City Council’s waste management and refuse service over job cuts, which bosses blamed on budget cuts and austerity measures.

However, the union has subsequently accused the service of blaming the cuts on austerity when really they were the result of a £9.7m budget overspend in 2016.

The ballot will close on 14 June and raises the possibility of strike action and disruption to refuse collections in the summer months.

‘We engaged with waste and refuse bosses in a constructive manner only to learn that it was a massive overspend which is driving these cuts and not austerity measures,’ said Unite regional officer Lynne Shakespeare.

‘To date, despite repeated requests, we have not been given any information as to how and why such a huge sum was overspent in a year.

‘Instead, bosses are ploughing on with their cuts leaving workers to pick up the pieces for their financial mismanagement and taxpayers out of pocket.

‘We would urge management to begin listening to the workforce and to start talking meaningfully with Unite to avoid the prospect of industrial action in the coming months.’

Jacqui Kennedy, Corporate Director for Place at Birmingham City Council, said: 'As has been widely reported, the council needs to save £171m by 2021 and this is a challenge being faced by all service areas within the council.

'In terms of waste management, pressures and demands on the service continue, and mean we have to find ways of saving in the region of £10m more on an annual basis. Doing nothing is simply not an option. We need to offer our services in a more productive, effective and efficient way.'

'It is evident that there are more cost effective ways of working in refuse collection. The consultation period has already been extended twice at the request of the trades unions to enable them to develop some alternative proposals,' she continued.

'Management are committed to working closely with union colleagues to help them produce alternative proposals. It is therefore disappointing this action is being encouraged whilst we continue to work so closely.'

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