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Birmingham bin workers halt industrial action after High Court victory

Unite said it had agreed to call off industrial action by bin workers for the time being, pending a trial later this year.


Rubbish bags are piled up in front of bins in Birmingham (Aaron Chown/PA)

Rubbish bags are piled up in front of bins in Birmingham (Aaron Chown/PA)

Rubbish bags are piled up in front of bins in Birmingham (Aaron Chown/PA)

A High Court judge has spoken of an “extraordinary” and “astonishing” state of affairs at Birmingham City Council as bin workers halted industrial action staged over plans to save money by reorganising rubbish collections.

Mr Justice Fraser said large amounts of rubbish had accumulated on the streets of Birmingham after refuse collectors faced with redundancy took industrial action and he said the dispute had led to the creation of a “schism” between councillors and council officers.

He spoke of “chaos” between senior personnel and said councillors and officers were “positively working against one another” at times.

The judge raised concern as he ruled on the latest stage of a High Court dispute between the Labour-controlled council and leaders of the Unite union following a hearing in London.

He said plans to make bin workers redundant should be shelved until the case had been analysed at a trial scheduled for November.

Union leaders also agreed to halt industrial action pending the outcome of that trial.

A Unite spokesman said refuse collectors had been due to continue “industrial action of three hours a day” until the end of the week


Rubbish bags piled up in Birmingham (Aaron Chown/PA)

Rubbish bags piled up in Birmingham (Aaron Chown/PA)

Rubbish bags piled up in Birmingham (Aaron Chown/PA)

But he said staff would now suspend industrial action and return to a full working day.

Bosses at the Labour-controlled council had outlined plans to make more than 100 redundancies earlier this year as part of a cost-cutting restructure of their waste and recycling service.

Unite lawyers said council bosses wanted to remove a “leading hand” role – and change a four-day, nine-hour shift pattern to a five-day, seven-hour arrangement.

Union leaders had raised safety concerns, saying “leading hands” had responsibilities which council bosses planned to reallocate to lorry drivers.

Staff had begun industrial action during the summer.

Unite had also taken legal action, arguing that redundancy plans were unfair and in breach of an agreement reached via arbitration service Acas.

Council bosses contested those claims.

Union lawyers had asked the judge to grant an injunction which would block redundancy plans pending a ruling on that underlying legal dispute.

Council bosses opposed such a move but the judge on Wednesday ruled in favour of Unite.

Mr Justice Fraser heard that the then council leader John Clancy had negotiated the Acas agreement with Unite several weeks ago.

Lawyers representing the council have suggested that Mr Clancy, who resigned earlier this month, had acted without authority and in breach of officers’ advice.

Unite say the agreement should remain.

The judge spoke of an “extraordinary and astonishing” state of affairs.

“Neither party emerged from this remarkable saga with any credit,” he said.

“There is a schism within the council. Officers and the executive not working together. Positively working against one another in some respects.”

He said there was “chaos” between senior personnel and said the descriptions “extraordinary” and “astonishing” were appropriate.

Mr Justice Fraser said “serious issues” would have to be analysed when a judge oversaw a trial of the High Court case later this year.

He said if the council won the battle, and successfully argued that taxpayers’ money had been wasted because redundancy plans had been shelved, Unite might have to pay compensation.

But he said the “balance of convenience” lay in shelving redundancy plans until the High Court case had been resolved.

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