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Birmingham Unison secretary Caroline Johnson wrote a response to a misleading report in the Birmingham Mail about the current "binmen" strike .

Letter to the Editor

 Grenfell Changes Everything

I was saddened to read the report by Neil Elks about the council’s proposals to cut pay and jobs in the city’s Fleet and Waste management service. (Birmingham Mail - Wednesday 28th June)

In Neil's article some vital facts about the service were missing and there was no real explanation of why we have got to the point of workers feeling so strongly that they have voted to strike.

Context

When we had a black bag service each refuge wagon had 5 workers; when the new wheelie bins were introduced this went down to 3. One is the driver of the wagon; who has to hold a HGV licence and they manoeuvre those large vehicles in Birmingham’s tightest spaces. A driver depending on an appraisal system can earn between £25,000-£31,000 Grade 4.  There is then a Leading Hand, their job is to make sure that they are all kept safe. They are the driver’s eyes at the back and side of the vehicle; they are in charge of talking to the public and making sure that people stay away from the back of the vehicle. They also collect the bins and empty them in the vehicle and are Grade 3 earning between £19,000 and £24,500. Then there is the loader whose job it is to collect bins and load them. Their pay is between £15,000 and £18,500. Since 2008 these workers have all had their pay cut twice.

UNISON believe that the service have suffered from mis-management over the last few years with 4 different senior managers in the last few years.  There has been no consistent management of the service and the depots have been filled with agency members of staff, some who have been there for many years.

Birmingham’s Rubbish

The number of households is growing as well as the number of people and this creates more rubbish. Since the council was forced to start charging for certain services more and more rubbish is being left on the streets. There is literally tons of rubbish collected every single day that is not calculated for.  The council have worked out a budget for the area based on simply collecting the actual wheelie bins – not all of the extra rubbish now being tipped and so they have overspent their budget and are attempting to cuts workers’ pay to pay for this. 

The government have cut £650M from our council budget since 2010 and this has affected everything we do. Over half the workforce has already been made redundant and like in Kensington,  health and safety checks are not carried out as often and more people’s lives are put at risk.

Workers that keep our city clean work throughout the year outside in all weathers. The job is dirty and dangerous but they take pride in their work. The council's plan to remove the Leading Hand role and replace it with another grade 2 post is not acceptable. None of the workers are responsible for the need to make cuts. Birmingham’s streets will not be getting any cleaner unless we invest in our services.

The unions in consultation with the workforce had been working on alternative proposals to make the savings the council wanted, by improving the way the work is organised, not cutting worker's pay or making them redundant, but at the last minute the council told us they intended to impose the  their changes.

Without these workers our city would be impossible to live in, the job they do is vital, just like the firefighters, the nurses and all the people being made to pay for the mess caused by greedy investment bankers. In the sixth richest economy in the world we can afford world class public services.

Austerity is a political choice it is not an economic necessity and the council need to invest in the workforce and in our city and demand that Central Government provide the funds to do so.

Caroline Johnson Branch Secretary Birmingham Unison Branch

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