Court action begins today in the dispute between unions and Birmingham City Council over the council’s continued failure to correct its actions after Acas mediation talks break down
Unite and Unison have been attempting to resolve their dispute with Birmingham City Council (BCC) via mediation service Acas, after the council made secret payments to a third union whose members were not involved in the successful 2017 industrial action by the city’s refuse collection workers.
BCC’s bad faith extends back at least as far as the 2017 dispute, with then-leader John Clancy forced to resign after the SKWAWKBOX revealed documents confirming that the council had agreed a deal with the workers’ unions – and then pretended it hadn’t, while threatening workers and issuing redundancy notices to try to force them to accept downgrades and pay cuts.
It was a stunning victory for union solidarity – but the council continued its provocative behaviour by making an additional payment to GMB members who did not strike. When exposed, the council claimed the payment was for its failure to consult GMB members, even though the law only requires such compensation if affected workers lose out. GMB members enjoyed the gains won by Unite and Unison in exactly the same way as members of those two unions.
Since then the controversy has escalated, with the council’s cabinet member for waste management resigning in protest at the council’s ‘declaration of war’ on some of its lowest-paid employees and criticising it in comments to all councillors, as it attempted to exploit Thatcher-era union laws to block attempts to win parity for Unite and Unison members.
Unsurprisingly given the council’s attitude so far – it even cancelled the first meeting at short notice – Acas talks have proven fruitless and the matter has gone back to court today.
The council’s Labour chief whip also resigned this month in protest at the Labour-run council’s ongoing contempt for its workers and for Labour principles – and the regional Labour board has referred both the council leader and his deputy to the party’s National Executive Committee.
BCC has failed to respond to enquiries.
The behaviour of a supposedly Labour council has been a disgrace. BCC employees and the residents of the great city of Birmingham are suffering the consequences of a dispute that could have been so easily avoided.
It’s time for the councillors and council officers to take responsibility for their actions – and if the court agrees with unions, as a judge has already indicated is probable, the position of those councillors and officers will immediately become untenable.
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