Refuse collections – An open letter to citizens

Dear citizen of Birmingham,

First and foremost we want to apologise for the continued disruption to city residents as a result of the ongoing industrial action by Unite the union in relation to refuse collection services in the city.

In the final week of July we launched a three-week recovery plan to ensure we visited every street in the city at least once. Despite the huge challenge posed by the industrial action we have made great progress in tackling the backlog of missed collections. Lessons have been learnt through this contingency process that will be put into place if the dispute continues.

That being said, positive moves are being made to settle the dispute and bring the disruption to an end. We have made an offer to Unite to take the areas we disagree on to ACAS (The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) so they can be swiftly resolved in an open, fair and transparent way.

It hasn’t been easy, and I know your patience has been tested – we are all fully aware this is one of the few genuinely universal services we provide, so one missed collection is one missed collection too many.

The fact this is a universal service is why we need to get it right. We need to modernise and bring refuse collection into line with the operating models used across the country, where modern, effective and efficient services are offered to citizens.

The plan we are discussing with the unions will do this, based on the best practice used by other councils.

Importantly, despite much of what you may have read and seen elsewhere, there are no job losses and no cuts to basic pay for workers that are affected by the removal of the “leading hand” role (one of the two supervisors we currently have – in a crew that is only a three-person team).

We are able to make these assurances because we have identified other permanent roles within the council that their skills are broadly suited to, with training on offer to help ensure they could move into the jobs as easily as possible.

Under the new model, we will also be shifting away from an over-reliance on agency staff, by recruiting more than 200 new permanent employees to collect rubbish and recycling from our streets. This will bring stability to the service and improve how we do things.

As we seek to resolve the dispute as soon as possible, we will be carrying on with our temporary arrangements to collect waste in the city. This is based on a model that sees us aim to visit all households within three weeks.

It isn’t what we want to do, but with a reduced workforce available, we will do everything we can (with the support of partner organisations) to collect your rubbish and recycling.

What has also become clear is that some areas have been blighted by flytipping during this action, where waste other than regular household rubbish has been presented on the streets.

Through our dispute recovery plan, we will look to tackle this, and aim to get to every ward once over the next three weeks. This may not be on your regular collection day.

The details for the wards we intend to visit during “Week One” (week commencing August 14) are available on our website:

If necessary (dependent on if the strike ends), we will then in due course announce arrangements for Week Two and Week Three. In simple terms, if your ward isn’t on the Week One list, please bear with us during this time. We will let you know the exact plan for your area as soon as possible.

I am also very mindful there has been a great deal of concern about our paid-for garden waste recycling service. We are currently reviewing our position on that so we can best address the disruption caused to subscribers.

In closing, it is important that I take this opportunity to ensure you are aware the pattern of industrial action changed on August 11. There are now three one-hour strikes each working day (7am-8am, then 10.30am-11.30am and finally 1.30pm-2.30pm).

The travel time before and after each hour of industrial action along with crew breaks being taken at their depot – rather than out and about in the city – will have a significant impact on collections. In simple terms this will be much more than the three hours of strike action that Unite the union claim to be staging.

Again, we apologise to the people of Birmingham for this situation and we will continue to talk with our trade union colleagues in a bid to try and resolve the dispute as soon as possible.

Cllr Lisa Trickett

Cabinet Member – Clean Streets, Recycling and Environment

Birmingham City Council

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