Members of an elite team of Birmingham binmen were each paid £45,000-a-year before council bosses took action to scrap lucrative bonuses.

In 2009 one dust cart crew pocketed a total of £225,000, it can be revealed.

The five-man team – a driver and four loaders – received a gold-plated bonus and overtime deal.

The wages, which would have taken the men into the top income tax bracket, were made possible by the city council’s willingness to pay time-and-a-half to pick up rubbish that was not collected during the normal working week – a practice that continues today.

There was also a £4,000 productivity bonus for collecting recycling materials.

Details of the generous rewards, showing that almost none of Birmingham’s 480 council binmen survive on basic pay, were leaked to the press.

Although the bonus was removed last November, generous overtime payments remain in place to ensure that bin men still earn an average £32,000-a-year.

The overtime system, described by a cabinet member as a “scam”, is the result of agreements struck years ago between the council and trade unions:

• Binmen work 9¼-hour shifts for four-days a week on a task-to-finish arrangement.

• They can go home as soon as they have finished their round, often after just six hours.

• If they are required to work for the remaining three hours, they qualify for immediate overtime payments.

• Although paid for a 37-hour week, the average basic working week in 2008-09 was just 24 hours per employee.

• The fifth day of the week offers guaranteed overtime to crews wishing to boost their pay packet.

Details of the payments are likely to ignite further the bitter binmen’s dispute.

Almost 500 refuse collectors plan to strike again this Thursday and Friday, while the council is already struggling to pick up thousands of black sacks piled on the city’s streets since a work to rule began to bite over Christmas and the New Year.

Officially, workers who throw sacks into refuse wagons get a basic salary of £24,000 and the drivers are paid £26,000.

But according to council figures the true average wage last year including overtime was £28,000 and £32,000.

The average wage for manual workers in the West Midlands is about £20,000.

Cabinet member Martin Mullaney described the payments as “shocking” and is calling for the overtime arrangements to be scrapped.

Council bosses have already removed the £4,000 productivity payment to binmen, which was deemed to break equal pay laws.

They want to go further by reorganising the refuse collection system with larger rounds and no guaranteed overtime – something the unions claim will result in bin men working 20 per cent harder for 20 per cent less pay.

Coun Mullaney (Lib Dem Moseley & Kings Heath) said: “What’s going on is absolutely disgraceful.

“What we are talking about at the moment is basically an overtime scam.

“Bin men are paid for a 37 hour week, but work only an average of 24 hours, and then qualify for overtime because all of the sacks haven’t been picked up.

“This is madness and it’s not something we should put up with for much longer.”

Even while working to rule the binmen should be able to complete their rounds properly, according to human resources cabinet member Alan Rudge.

Coun Rudge (Con Sutton Vesey) added: “The contract of employment states crews work on a task-to-finish basis.

“This means 80 crews have sufficient time to make scheduled collections from 85,000 households each day.”