It's the summer scenario nobody in Birmingham wants - rubbish piled up on the streets, rats running rampant, residents angry and the city's reputation in tatters.

But unions have warned a new wave of bin strikes could run until the SUMMER.

Unite, the union representing the majority of the city's bins workforce, announced it was to ballot members over industrial action amid health and safety concerns.

Depending on the outcome, fresh strikes could be called in March and run throughout the spring and early summer, warned Howard Beckett, assistant general secretary of Unite.

A series of one-day strikes are already in place - the first was on Tuesday with the second tomorrow, Friday.

Striking bin workers outside the Redfern Depot in Tyseley

The new row is over union claims that bin lorries were going out to collect rubbish without a safety worker on board, putting crews and public at risk.

The announcement of a new ballot came on the day peace talks between the union and Birmingham City Council were due to resume at arbitration service ACAS.

The talks were taking place against the backdrop of continued legal threats from all sides, and as Labour city council chiefs faced mounting pressure from their own backbenchers to do a deal to end the dispute.

At a Cabinet meeting this week, the city's leaders reaffirmed their commitment to purse a legal injunction against the unions to declare the current industrial action "unlawful" - while also pledging to continue talks to try to agree a resolution.

 

In a statement, Unite set out the reason for the new ballot.

It said: "Under the terms of the settlement The 2017 High Court agreement established that all Birmingham council bin lorries would not be sent on rounds without a Waste Reductions Collections Officer (WRCO) worker as part of the crew. The WRCO undertakes a critical role ensuring the safety of fellow bin workers at the rear of the lorries and ensuring the safety of the general public in the vicinity of the bin lorry.

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

"As a result of the ongoing 'work to rule' and strike action...the council has been increasingly sending out bin lorries without a WRCO. This has resulted in highly inexperienced workers, often newly recruited via employment agencies, being sent to collect rubbish without a worker who assures their safety being present."

The union attempted - and failed - to secure an immediate High Court injunction to end the practice last week.

It said it now had "no option but to go ahead and ballot its members for further industrial action on this matter".

Mr Beckett said: “Birmingham Council is riding roughshod over a High Court agreement that ended the 2017 bin strike.

"By doing so it is endangering the safety of its workforce and the general public.

“Given those circumstances and the council’s refusal to immediately end this dangerous practice, Unite is balloting for fresh industrial action, in order to ensure the safety of the local population.

“While Birmingham residents will, of course, be concerned about uncollected rubbish they will also be alarmed that bin lorries in their roads are no longer operating to agreed safety standards.

“This dispute and the related dispute about secret payments and the blacklisting of trade unionists are both entirely of the council’s own making.

"It is Birmingham council who can end this dispute by providing workers with equal payments and abiding by the 2017 High Court agreement.”

Birmingham Council responded to the safety fears, saying: “All city council employees who deliver waste collection services have health and safety responsibilities - it is not exclusive to a certain grade or role.

“The same can be said for any agency or contract worker we utilise for missed collections or the contingency plan to mitigate the effects of the current industrial action."

What the industrial action means to you

The city has moved to waste collections every fortnight in what was billed as a temporary measure while industrial action was under way. It was designed to ensure "reliability of service" until the dispute is resolved, said council chiefs.

Household and recycling bins were due to be collected on the same day, every fortnight.

Residents were asked to put out both bins or black sacks on the day they would normally expect their recycling to be collected. An extra two or three black bags of rubbish will be permitted.

The city’s five  household recycling centres are open daily.

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.

GMB has since protested that the payments have been misrepresented as a reward for not striking. 

Joe Morgan, Regional Secretary, said: “Any suggestion GMB members received payments in return for not striking in 2017 is nothing short of a grotesque slur. We will make no apology for standing up for our members in the face of injustice or holding employers to account."

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, who "called in" the decision for further scrutiny.

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