City council chiefs offered up to £3,000 each to disgruntled bin workers to try to bring the 'extremely damaging' waste dispute to a close, it emerged today.

Acting on legal advice, the city council had worked out a deal that would make 'commercial sense' to try to end industrial action, now in its fifth week, despite having earlier claimed that the bin workers were acting 'unlawfully'.

The offer, detailed in a briefing to the council's Cabinet, was in response to fears that a protracted dispute could cost cash-strapped Birmingham a staggering £28 MILLION of public money.

A lengthy strike would also damage the city's reputation, while residents would continue to suffer missed rubbish collections, an epidemic of fly tipping and a rise in rats.

 

The city's overtures were, though, rejected.

Unite the Union, which represents more than 300 refuse collectors, instead announced they are to escalate their work-to-rule and no overtime industrial action to full walkouts from Tuesday, February 19.

Now the city council has to consider whether to press on with legal action, or do more to meet union demands.

Any option is fraught with risks, reveals the report to the Cabinet, meeting next Tuesday. (February 12)

 

They include:

1. Do nothing until the city faces related employment tribunal claims from bin workers - but those hearings are not scheduled to take place until February 2020, a year from now.

In the face of escalating strike action, it's an option that would cost anywhere from £13.5 million up to £28.2 million. The city will also see a rising tide of waste, reduced recycling and an adverse impact on trade waste collection. Absence rates among bin workers are also rising, with many citing stress and anxiety; this would likely continue to pose problems.

2. Make a payment settling the employment tribunals claim brought by Unite members as long as the union agreed to end the dispute.

This would make 'commercial sense' because of the significant impact of the strike action and likely costs of contingency measures. However, it would also set a precedent for further claims from other workers in the council, particularly female workers under equality legislation, and could trigger industrial unrest.

The report adds: "(Legal) Counsel has been extensively consulted based on any litigation risk for the council and the commercial reasons for settling these claims and advised that a reasonable, well evaluated figure for members of Unite the Union would be in the region of £2,000 to £3,000. The council has already made a reasonable offer which has been rejected by Unite the Union."

3. Make a one off payment - figure not disclosed - to end the dispute.

4. Seek an immediate legal injunction on the grounds the industrial action is unlawful.

This would likely cost up to £1.5 million. Unite the union has previously indicated it would carry on industrial action regardless of any injunction.

The briefing papers also say that Unite is planning further legal challenges around the council's use of agency workers during strike action, a possible judicial review challenging the council’s contingency arrangements; and threats of further Employment Tribunal claims over holiday arrangements.

Household rubbish begins to pile high on the streets of Alum Rock in Birmingham during the 2017 strike

"These challenges are not viewed as legitimate. The Union have widened the challenges in order to put pressure on the Council," says the report.

The Cabinet will decide which option to pursue when it meets next week, unless its open invitation to the union to negotiate further is accepted in the meantime.

 

The bins dispute and its ramifications dominated this week's full council meeting at the Council House.

Conservative group leader Coun Robert Alden said the leader and his fellow negotiators had been 'played' by the union team.

"Your cabinet agreed to pursue a legal injunction and cited advice that payments were unlawful - now we learn you were willing to offer a payment to Unite. How are your actions different to those of (former city council leader) Councillor John Clancy, who had to resign for taking similar actions? You are being played by Unite - why did you not just press on with legal action?"

In response, Coun Ward said it was perfectly legitimate to seek a resolution without recourse to courts if that could be achieved.

"We are not being played by our colleagues in the wider Labour movement," he added.

 

He also dashed any hopes of a council tax rebate for frustrated residents worst hit by the ongoing dispute.

There was 'no intention' to refund householders for the lost collections during the industrial dispute since it began at the start of the new year, he said.

"Council tax pays for all services, not just bins. I regret that the waste service is not what it should be. The people of this city are entitled to a very very good waste service and they are not getting that at the moment."

New bins chief Coun Brett O'Reilly (Longbridge and West Heath) was unveiled at the full council meeting, replacing Coun Majid Mahmood, who quit over the city's handling of the dispute. Coun O'Reilly will take on the waste portfolio, with Coun Tristan Chatfield replacing him as finance lead. Coun John Cotton comes into the Cabinet to take on the communities and social inclusion brief.