Another bin strike looks increasingly likely in Brighton and Hove with a series of meetings scheduled next week which could lead to a ballot of union members.
The meetings have been arranged by the GMB union for workers at the Cityclean depot run by Brighton and Hove City Council in Hollingdean.
It comes as relations between the two sides have deteriorated in recent months, with even ACAS – the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service – said to be unable to find a way forward.
The GMB is expected to take the temperature among about 300 staff who empty bins, handle recycling and clean the streets.
After the meetings next week, the results of an indicative ballot are expected to be announced by Friday 3 May – the day on which the results of the local elections will also become known.
Union bosses are confident that this will be followed by a formal strike ballot and if, as expected, members vote in favour, a strike could start in June.
The breakdown of relations follows the suspension of a number of people at the Cityclean depot, including at least one GMB rep.
The union said that the council had tried to prevent branch secretary Mark Turner from being able to represent a member.
And there was a row about the operator’s licence needed to run the fleet of bin lorries used to pick up rubbish and recycling around Brighton and Hove.
In a message to members yesterday Mr Turner and full-time GMB official Gary Palmer said: “Recent press articles and subsequent rumours around a number of issues within Cityclean and the council as a whole have prompted us to seek to update you on what is best described as a complete senior management shambles.
“Obviously there are issues, in fact so many that ACAS have tried to conciliate between us and the council but a move by the council during that process has undermined the GMB’s trust in the chief exec and his exec team’s ability to actually say and do the same thing and therefore the process has stalled.
“While dealing with a complaint against a GMB rep, the rep put in a ‘subject access request’ (SAR) to see exactly what the employer has accumulated against him throughout his employment.
“To say we were shocked with what came back from that and the senior level at which a significant amount of detailed information was being gathered against him is an understatement.
“The material now in our possession shows sweeping gathering of information, bordering on stalking, with the express aim of undermining your trade union and those who put their head above the parapet for GMB members.
“In fact it is clear that at least one senior manager is openly and obsessively anti-trade union, even more so, anti-GMB and is fixated on removing GMB from the depot.
“Disappointingly, to date the chief exec has not condemned this manager’s actions and behaviours leaving it to us to draw our own conclusions on deciding whether this is just a rogue manager or whether it is senior officer led.
“The type of information being gathered is intrusive and absurd but it might just be worth your while to consider requesting your own SAR to discover if a file on yourself is also being compiled by senior management and the council.
“A further and even more sinister turn has happened recently where the council have now sought to block B50 branch secretary Mark Turner from representing a member at an investigation and hearing.
“This worrying move, if the council are allowed to get away with it, will mean that management will seek to breach your statutory right to decide who you can take in with you to a meeting to best represent your side of any argument, at a whim.
“Because of this move the GMB have formally written to the Geoff Raw, chief exec, to clarify if he is actively working at removing Mark Turner as GMB branch sec but to date we have had no reply.
“Of course you will have recently seen on a daily basis the pandemonium caused by the chief exec and his senior exec team leaving GMB members and everyone at the depot at one time on the verge of closure, leaving you all at risk of losing your jobs due to the council putting its operator’s licence at risk through a combination of incompetence and idleness.
“So where do you all come in to this? Well this is your union and the T&Cs (terms and conditions) you have now are not a gift from an admiring employer and the council, they have been hard fought for by yourselves over the years alongside GMB support and direction from your GMB reps and branch secretary Mark Turner.
“Further improvements won’t be handed to you without the GMB industrial muscle you have flexed so admirably in the past.
“The council know this and the recent attacks on reps, branch and union are a concerted effort to undermine your own collective strength.
“We know there are significant changes the council wish to make later this year in regards to your working practices and potentially your terms and conditions, so we need to prepare and everyone’s focus must remain on defending your employment.
“We may need to count on your support over the coming months to reassert your GMB in the workplace and to BACK THOSE THAT BACK YOU!”