Over 400 Birmingham refuse collectors and street cleaners took a one day strike action on Monday 20th December in a dispute over pay cuts which could lead to up to £4,000 a year in lost pay. Members of three trade unions, Unite, UNISON and GMB, were solidly on strike, with little passing through the picket lines at half a dozen depots around the city.
Picket lines started as early as 4 am in the morning in temperatures which fell to minus 10 degrees, in the snow choked city. As many as thirty to fifty maintained the picket lines outside the main depots throughout the morning.
Crews also started a ‘work-to-rule’ from the following day. Management are attempting to break the strike through recruiting inexperienced, untrained casual workers. Union members are furious and determined to win this dispute.
The action by Fleet and Waste Management members has been well timed, with an expected 30% increase in refuse left by households over the Christmas and New Year period. Already Birmingham is being called the Black Bag City as rubbish piles up. This gives us no pleasure or satisfaction but our F&WM members have been given no choice but to fight to stop these pay reductions. Refuse collectors and street cleaners take pride in their contribution to making Birmingham a clean city.
Talks have taken place with the unions and the council for well over a year but no acceptable offer has been made by management. The new contracts with pay cuts were imposed in November 2010 and the last pay packets before Christmas saw major reductions in pay for many.
Stewards and union officials will be meeting shortly to discuss the next steps. Management need to fully appreciate the strength of feeling of our members and bring to the table proposals for settling this dispute.
The city council is also proposing to reduce the pay of another 8,000+ staff by removing additional pay for working weekends and shifts, amongst many other local allowances. This could mean up to a third of the earnings of low paid carers, cleaners, cooks and many others.
Report from Graeme Horn, Joint Branch Secretary, UNISON Birmingham Branch
Photographs from Graeme Horn and Right to Work