Socialist Worker

Birmingham refuse workers suspend strikes

Issue No. 2235

Some 480 refuse workers employed by Birmingham City Council suspended their planned two half-day strikes last week after management were forced to make concessions.

An ongoing work-to-rule was also suspended.

In November, bosses cut workers’ pay by up to £4,000 a year, and also changed incremental payments and shifts.

The bin dispute has become crucial as Birmingham’s Tory council attempts to push through massive cuts. Some 6,000 workers face losing their jobs and the council has threatened to sack all its 26,000 workers unless they accept cuts to pay, terms and conditions.

With the council under pressure to clear mounds of uncollected rubbish, the workers’ Unite, GMB, Unison and Ucatt unions have the upper hand in the dispute.

Management lifted their threat to dock workers’ pay by 20 percent if they refused to stop their work-to-rule.

They also agreed to a four-day week of 9.25 hours a day and to immediately sack casual workers brought in to undermine the unions.

Talks continue this week but many workers are suspicious at bosses’ vague promises to compensate those who have had their pay cut. This will be linked to yet another “performance development review”.

Previous reviews have left refuse workers with less money and increased workloads.

Steve Underhill, a Unite rep at the Montague Street depot, told Socialist Worker, “Although the council has made some concessions, there is nothing concrete on the table about the money we’ve lost.

“Some of us wanted to go ahead with the strike—maybe go out for two weeks, like they did in Leeds.”

Management have tried to divide the workforce by blaming the refuse workers’ pay cut on a recent court victory that forced the council to pay many women council workers more.

But Steve says refuse workers are not taken in by this: “Women in the council have been mistreated for years. Their pay should have been levelled up 16 years ago. We shouldn’t be levelled down.”

Steve remains determined that strikes will be back on if the council “starts playing games”.

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Tue 18 Jan 2011, 18:01 GMT
Issue No. 2235
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