BIN STRIKES: Councillor accused bin lorry drivers' union of 'holding the city over a barrel' during urgent six-hour meeting held to try to resolve the ongoing dispute

Strike action was likened to terrorism by a councillor who accused the bin lorry drivers’ union, the GMB, of 'holding the city over a barrel'.

Wednesday, 13th October 2021, 7:27 pm
Updated Wednesday, 13th October 2021, 7:30 pm
Another mound of rubbish in Brighton, picture taken today (Wednesday, October 13)

Conservative councillor Joe Miller made the comments during a six-hour meeting today (Wednesday, October 13) as leading councillors agreed how Brighton and Hove City Council would attempt to resolve the bin lorry drivers’ strike which has left rubbish piled high.

Councillor Miller’s comments courted controversy even though he said that he had sympathy for the drivers’ grievances with management that were the substance of the original ballot before pay became part of the equation.

He said: “Ultimately in my view, the GMB are holding a gun to our head. They’ve got us over a barrel. It’s blackmail. I’ve never known anything quite like it.”

HGV drivers on the picket line at Hollingdean on the first day of the strike

The Green leader of the council Phélim Mac Cafferty censured Councillor Miller for using former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s line on negotiating with terrorists.

Councillor Miller said: “This is a similar situation to ‘you can’t negotiate with terrorists’. The actions of the GMB are not those of terrorists, obviously, but what they are doing is they are refusing to work.

“They have inflamed an issue from one I was sympathetic to, to throwing pain at the last minute, which is going to cost a significant amount of council taxpayers’ money.

“We’re not talking small pay rises. These are significant pay rises. Those are the actions of blackmail and terrorism because terrorists do exactly the same, and blackmail is exactly the same.”

Labour councillor Nancy Platts, a former leader of the council, shared comments from drivers, having spoken with them on the picket line

After Councillor Mac Cafferty asked Councillor Miller to modify his language, he said the pay demands were unreasonable without cutting other council services and a hard line needed to be taken.

Grievances shared on the picket line

The four Labour councillors at the special meeting of the council’s Policy and Resources Committee, were quick to condemn Councillor Miller’s comments.

Labour councillor Nancy Platts, a former leader of the council, shared comments from drivers, having spoken with them on the picket line at the depot in Hollingdean to hear their grievances.

She said that the workers were among the lowest paid in the city, with many earning a basic wage of £21,000, rising to £28,000 with overtime.

When she led the council, industrial relations were under strain, she told the meeting at Hove Town Hall, but she brought in an independent negotiator who found the middle ground.

Councillor Platts said bin drivers had told her that managers were not treating them with respect. She said that drivers wanted to complete their rounds and had a tremendous sense of frustration when they could not do so but they did not have the tools they needed to do the job.

The reasons why drivers said they did not complete their rounds included

Second-hand bin lorries that frequently broke down

Being sent out with the wrong vehicles to pick up specific types of bins

The resulting delays forcing staff either to work overtime at short notice or leave a round unfinished

Managers sending people out on rounds that they were not familiar with, with mazes of alleyways and hidden bins

New drivers not given enough details about rounds and having to work out their own routes using Google Maps

Labour councillors called for the negotiating team to seek a dispensation so that rubbish could be collected from bin stores in flats where they were a fire hazard.

They also asked for a third party to join the negotiating teams to resolve the dispute.

Residents are suffering

Labour’s co-leader, councillor John Allcock, said that the council should have brought in the conciliation and arbitration service ACAS or an independent industrial relations expert to help before the dispute descended into industrial action.

He also asked why the negotiating team had not found a way to remove rubbish from bin stores in tower blocks. Residents expected answers, he said, as they were suffering.

Councillor Allcock said: “What’s disappointing is that there are really no excuses for that failure either, considering the last Labour administration left you with a clear example of how to resolve a complex Cityclean dispute without seeing residents exposed to industrial action.

“Is the institutional memory of the senior management team so short that those lessons have already been forgotten?”

At the end of the six-hour meeting, with more than three hours in confidential session, the Green and Labour members voted to address low pay; seek a dispensation for workers to clear bin stores in tower blocks; engage a third party to advise the negotiating team and formally condemn Councillor Miller’s comments.

The decision will go before a meeting of the full council next week, on Thursday, October 21, at Councillor Miller’s request.

After the meeting, councillor Phélim Mac Cafferty, leader of the council said: "Councillors have today agreed a way forward to resolve industrial action at Cityclean, after being presented with options. We thank the Labour group for working together with us on paving a way forward to a resolution. We are hopeful of acceptance of a revised offer to the GMB, and the subsequent suspension of strike action.

“The offer agreed by committee urges the employer to achieve best value for money and address low pay. It also includes a request to the GMB to consider removing rubbish from bin storage areas in flats, to avoid a fire hazard. The proposal also seeks to involve a mediator, should this latest offer from the employer not be accepted and further negotiations continue.

“Importantly, we feel that valued key workers and our residents need to have trust and confidence in the refuse and recycling service and the way forward. We urge all councillors to join with us in working to achieve this across the council, as it's clear many of these issues have arisen across a number of years.”

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