The GMB union has called off a series of bin strikes after a meeting of members at the Cityclean depot in Hollingdean this morning (Thursday 25 July).
The decision to suspend the strikes came after senior politicians agreed that a GMB rep, Dave Russell, could be allowed to return to work at the depot.
And the decision to end restrictions on where Mr Russell could work was made at a specially convened meeting of local party leaders first thing yesterday morning (Wednesday 24 July).
The union said: “GMB have today suspended the current strike action notices issued to Brighton and Hove City Council for industrial action for the period commencing (Monday) 29 July through to (Tueday) 6 August.
“This comes as a sign of good faith in light of an agreement by the council to revoke the continued unfair exclusion of a GMB union representative from his workplace at the Hollingdean Cityclean depot.
“The rep has been at the centre of anti-trade union behaviour from some council officers.
“The full series of one-day strikes and ban on overtime, some of which would have coincided with the City’s Pride festival, has now been put on hold.
“Residents and visitors will now see operatives from street cleansing, refuse and recycling departments not only out keeping Brighton and Hove free from rubbish as normal, but also providing the city with extensive and professional clean-up services following the main Pride parade, events and the weekend’s increased visitor numbers.”
GMB branch secretary Mark Turner said: “The negotiated agreement to return our representative to his workplace and the response that we have been able to suspend the threat of industrial action over the coming weeks has been welcomed by our union’s membership and staff at the Cityclean depot.
“There are still a number of worrying and serious issues in need of addressing and I’m sure that Brighton and Hove City Council’s management team will think so as well.
“However, with further meetings over the coming weeks planned and the commencement of the agreed independent review we hope that matters might now take a turn for the better and flush out those opposed to a good industrial relationship within the paid service with regard to the GMB union.
“This was, to be clear, never about seeking to single out and affecting the city’s Pride celebrations and our members and their families are looking forward to attending and taking part in both the parade and festivities over the weekend just like thousands of others.
“The power to resolve the issue was always firstly in the hands of the council. They’ve taken that step and we have equally responded. They just now need to follow up on that commitment. Let’s hope they do.”
GMB regional organiser Gary Palmer said: “It’s certainly too early yet to think this dispute is completely over.
“There are still red lines outstanding – as far as the GMB are concerned – along with the need to understand and address the reason behind the potential anti-trade union behaviour against the GMB from within the council organisation by some officers, led by chief exec Geoff Raw.”
The dispute has included claims and counterclaims about the behaviour and past actions of various individuals on the union and council side.
The GMB have pointed the finger at Mr Raw and want an independent review to include in its remit claims that the union has made about the chief executive.
These include an allegation that Mr Raw offered “to affect the outcome of a disciplinary hearing in exchange for the permanent exclusion of a GMB rep from the depot”.
The union also holds Mr Raw partly responsible for “the near loss of the city’s operator licence” without which the bin trucks would not be able to leave the depot.
But one council official said that it was hard for managers – even those at the top – to speak out about the reasons behind the dispute because the key decisions were generally made by politicians.
And in Brighton and Hove, no party has been able to win a majority for a generation so, inevitably, agreements have to be reached between politicians, with officials having to be scrupulously impartial.
There was another reason why officials and politicians had shown some reticence in this particular dispute and that’s because it involved individual employees, with the council having to respect rules around confidentiality in such circumstances.
Yesterday the council issued a statement which said: “Following a Policy, Resources and Growth Urgency Sub-Committee (meeting) today, the council agreed measures which are hoped will avert industrial action threatened by GMB union members at Cityclean.
“GMB members will be given time to meet their union representatives and officials on Thursday morning (25 July) to consider their response to the proposed measures.
“A major concern for the council has been the potential impact of up to seven days of industrial action on 120,000 households and the timing of the action which is due to take place during Pride, the city’s biggest annual visitor event.
“The council will fully support all Cityclean managers and staff affected by the current dispute.”
Mr Palmer said that the union would “monitor closely” the tentative agreement to allow Mr Russell to return to work at the depot over the coming weeks.
An investigation into claims made about Mr Russell is being overseen by an independent outsider as part of an agreement between the council and the GMB.
The decision to appoint an independent outsider is one of the steps that is believed to have been agreed during talks brokered by ACAS – the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service.
Mr Palmer added: “Perhaps a negotiated settlement is still possible and modifications to working relations both sides might wish to see can be implemented, meaning industrial relations can change going forward.”
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