Birmingham City Council hopes to halt the latest bin strike ‘within weeks’ through a court order, after peace talks with the unions collapsed.
As of today (Wednesday, February 13) the Labour-run authority has become embroiled in three legal battles with Unison and Unite over the waste service as they launch proceedings to obtain an injunction to suspend their current industrial action.
It comes on the same day Unite, which represents more than 250 city refuse workers, seeks its own injunction against the authority at the High Court in London claiming it has breached the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) – which ended the 2017 dispute – by ‘short-staffing’ wagons.
Meanwhile the two unions have launched litigation against the council in protest over settlements made to GMB members in the wake of the 2017 dispute.
The council says the payments were because they failed to consult with GMB but Unite claim the agreements ‘blacklisted’ their own members.
The row sparked work to rule industrial action from Unite on December 29 which will be escalated to two days of strikes a week from Tuesday (February 19) prompting the council to temporarily move to a fortnightly collection service.
While the council has stated the protests are ‘unlawful’ it is racking up costs of up to £350,000 a week in mitigation measures, particularly agency crews, which could lead to a black hole of up to £28.2m if the row continues into 2020.
Cllr Brett O’Reilly ( Longbridge and West Heath ), cabinet member for clean streets, waste and recycling, confirmed that offers worth between £2,000 and £3,000 per claimant had been made to ‘settle the litigation’ but rejected by the unions.
He said: “We’ve made what we believe to be a good offer.
“If we can’t get an agreement we will proceed with an application for a high court injunction but the offer will remain on the table until we get a court injunction.
“We hope that they put it to their members, it’s a good offer.”
He added: “I don’t believe Unite would continue their action if they were instructed by a court to cease.
“What would happen, significantly, if we were successful at the full hearing, the offer of a settlement would come off the table because essentially the courts would be ruling that the council has no case to answer.”
It is hoped an injunction hearing could take place within two to three weeks although the council is ‘at the mercy of the courts’ in terms of a time-frame, Cllr O’Reilly said.
Unite stated the attempted peace talks with the council ‘collapsed within minutes’ yesterday claiming the terms of a revised offer were worse than the previous one.
Assistant general secretary Howard Beckett went on to say the council were ‘misleading’ residents and only had one agenda which is to ‘provoke strike action’.
The opposition Conservative group has waded into the matter describing financial offers to the unions as a ‘bin bounty’ and launching an online petition for residents to be compensated due to the mass disruption.
Cllr Rob Alden (Group leader, Erdington ) said: “Rather than seeking to reward workers taking part in an industrial dispute the council itself has said is unlawful over a complaint the council still insists is entirely without merit, they should instead be looking to compensate the residents of Birmingham for suffering 666 days and counting of bin disputes.”