Birmingham’s 374 binmen claimed more than £1 million in overtime payments in the run up to last summer’s bin strike new figures have revealed.
The soaring cost of the service was a key factor in the council’s decision to scrap four-day working, cut pay grades of about 120 staff and slash overtime which led to months of industrial action.
The figures were released under the Freedom of Information after a TEN MONTH battle between BirminghamLive and council authorities.
They reveal that 32 staff received overtime payments of more than £7,000 each during the year to March 2017. Another 112 received sums of between £3,000 and £7,000, suggesting that overtime was a routine occurrence.
The full breakdown for numbers of staff receiving overtime during 2016/17 was:
- 44 received less than £500
- 98 received £500 - £3,000
- 122 received £3,000 - £7,000
- 32 received more than £7,000
The total overtime, assuming a midpoint average figure for each band, was approximately £1,100,000.
The figures also show that 70 per cent of the total ended up in the pockets of 144 staff.
The overtime was on top of more than 200 agency staff who were routinely used to collect waste.
At the time binmen's salaries ranged from under £17,000 for the lowest grade loader to more than £30,000 for the lorry drivers.
The combined cost of agency and overtime staff during 2016/17 was £8.4 million and one reason for the overhaul of the service which prompted the strike was to reduce this bill dramatically.
Despite arguing the binmen’s overtime bill was too high last summer, the city council initially refused to release the details.
So a Freedom of Information Act (FOI) request was submitted by BirminghamLive on July 27, 2017 asking for the detail.
At the same time details of disciplinary action against staff were also requested as there had been rumours about issues on the picket lines.
Both information requests were rejected outright in a response from the city council issued on September 6, two weeks after the regulation 20 working day deadline.
The council claimed making the information public would disrupt attempts to resolve the dispute.
Yet a similar question on disciplinary action was raised by a city councillor and a full public answer given at a meeting on September 12 which revealed there had been 31 investigations into misconduct among the service over two months of strike action.
A challenge to the refusal was later lodged and a reply received in November in which the council’s top lawyer Kate Charlton told BirminghamLive that revealing the information could leave the council at risk of equal pay claims by providing information to claimants and alert more staff to pay disparity, prompting more claims.
A further justification given was that: “If (the information) were publicly available it would no doubt attract considerable publicity, very likely nationally as well as locally.”
Yet whether or not information is of public interest, or interest to the public, is not a valid reason for refusal.
An appeal was lodged early in December and by March no response had been received, so the matter was referred to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).
It was only after the ICO became involved that the city council, under direction from new chief executive Dawn Baxendale, finally released the information.
The city council has recently come under fire for refusing to release its Brexit impact report under the Freedom of Information Act.