Smiling bin workers manned the barricades at waste depots across Birmingham in the first of a series of one-day strikes.

Their actions brought refuse collections across the city to a virtual halt, meaning thousands of bins filled with food waste, litter and recycling would be left.

The strike was called by the union Unite after talks broke down to resolve a dispute with Birmingham City Council.

The row started over secret payments made at the end of the 2017 bin strike to non striking refuse collectors from the union GMB - but has since become increasingly fraught, with claims and counter claims triggering legal action.

Today Unite boss Howard Beckett said his workers had been "compelled" to act over the city council's failure to "end discriminatory practices".

Picket line outside the Redfern Depot in Tyseley

He added: "If the discrimination ends, the dispute ends."

Former city bins boss Coun Majid Mahmood, who quit in disgust over the city council's strategy for tackling the dispute, took to social media today to show his support for the striking bin men.

 

He wrote: "Solidarity with our brothers and sisters from Unite the union who are on strike seeking workplace justice.

Unite assistant general secretary Howard Beckett at the picket line at the Redfern depot, Tyseley

"The irony is that Birmingham City Council has spent more on 'strike busting' in the last few months than the cost of making parity payments that would settle the dispute."

 

He added: "The city council is on a destructive path in an attempt to break the trade union movement in the city. That is something that I and members of the Labour movement will not allow to happen."

Striking bin workers outside the Redfern Depot in Tyseley

The city council has introduced contingency measures to counteract the worst impact of the industrial action, including a temporary move to fortnightly bin collections.

They say the move is designed to ensure "reliability of service" until the dispute is resolved.

 

Further strike dates this month will be this Friday February 22 and next Wednesday February 27 and Thursday February 28.

Strikes will also be on Monday March 4, Friday March 8, Tuesday March 12, Wednesday March 13, Thursday March 21 and Friday March 22.

Birmingham City Council has created a handy online link for residents to check their collection day.

 

Why are bin collections being disrupted?

In December members of the union Unite - representing the vast majority of the city's estimated 350 refuse workers - voted to take industrial action after secret payments to GMB union members by Birmingham City Council were uncovered.

The union say the payments - totalling £68,000 - were a 'reward' to GMB workers for not striking during the bins dispute that crippled the city throughout the summer of 2017.

The city council and GMB admit the payment was subject to secrecy clauses but say it was in settlement of a fair legal claim that GMB workers were not properly consulted over working practices introduced to end the 2017 strike.

Bins waiting to be emptied in James Turner Street in Winson Green

That explanation has not deterred Unite members, who introduced a work to rule and overtime ban from December 29.

Action has since escalated because of continued wrangles over bin men's applications for leave and the council's use of agency crews to collect rubbish.

Both sides are taking legal action against the other over aspects of the dispute.

 

Last week we revealed how the city's Labour leadership had offered payments of up to £3,000 for each of the bin workers to resolve the dispute. That decision was condemned by the city's Labour and Lib Dem groups, and has now been "called in" for scrutiny. A special Cabinet meeting takes place tomorrow to discuss the issue.

Coun Debbie Clancy (Con, Longbridge and West Heath) said the way the council has negotiated with Unite over bins has been "an embarrassment".

She said: “Council Leader Ian Ward’s handling of this dispute has been an embarrassment to this city from the outset, costing tax payers millions and giving rise to some very significant financial and legal risks. His dysfunctional relationship with his friends in the Labour movement since promising to resolve the dispute on becoming leader, back in 2017, appears only to have made matters worse.”

Are you affected by the bins dispute? Share your pictures and comments on our Facebook page or email jane.haynes@reachplc.com