Labour councillors stepped into the dispute between Brighton and Hove City Council and striking bin lorry drivers, setting up a meeting between unions and council chiefs today (Wednesday 6 October).
But despite a round of talks which ended a short while ago, the strike at the council’s Cityclean depot will continue.
Some had hoped that the opposition party’s intervention could see rubbish and recycling lorries back on the road in time for the Brighton Half Marathon on Sunday (10 October).
Instead, one of those close to the talks said that route was “likely to be lined with bin bags”.
Officials from the GMB plan to meet the striking drivers tomorrow to give them an update but one said: “There have been talks but there is nothing concrete on the table.”
GMB organiser Gary Palmer said: “There are talks going on but we are nowhere near a settlement.”
Two Green councillors, Amy Heley and Jamie Lloyd, attended the meeting with the GMB union today when they were joined by senior council officials.
Last night Labour said that Councillor John Allcock, co-leader of the opposition, and Councillor Gary Wilkinson, who speaks for Labour on the environment, had met GMB officials to hear their concerns.
Labour said: “(They) wrote to the leader of the council, the chief executive and the GMB branch secretary to facilitate a meeting between both parties in order to find a swift resolution for residents.
“Following those actions, and as a direct result of Labour’s intervention and discussions, the GMB have put another offer to the chief executive and leader of the council to meet (to) seek a resolution to this dispute.
“Labour urge the council to take the GMB up on this offer as communication and negotiation are how industrial disputes are resolved.”
Councillor Allcock said last night: “I’m pleased our interventions have paved the way for constructive talks and hopefully an end to strike action.
“I urge the leader of the council and the chief executive to meet with the GMB, get round the table and communicate to find a way forward that benefits our residents.
“Burying heads in the sand helps nobody. We need the council to tackle this crisis directly and the next step in doing that involves attending the meeting with GMB that we have facilitated.”
The council said that while the usual bin rounds for rubbish and recycling could not take place, the council’s two tips – off Old Shoreham Road, Hove, and in Whitehawk – were still open as normal.
The strike follows what the GMB said were “failures to follow council policies and procedures” that had previously been agreed with drivers and their union.
The GMB said that there had been “unilateral decision-making around variations of duties, crew changes, planning for collecting of dropped work and the accumulating resultant effect and toll on driver’s health and wellbeing”.
Council bosses are understood to have been asking crews to work flexibly to minimise disruption to rubbish and recycling collections when staff were off sick or self-isolating as a result of the coronavirus rules.
The council said: “Our aim is to always provide the best service possible to our residents and we thank all Cityclean staff who have continued to work incredibly hard throughout covid.
“We have seen high levels of staff illness in part due to the pandemic which has included unavoidable covid-related illnesses and others having to self-isolate as well as annual leave and other sickness.
“The situation has been made worse by the national HGV driver shortage which has affected our ability to employ new staff or agency workers.
“These staff shortages have meant Cityclean managers at times asking staff to work flexibly which has meant moving a driver or operative to another crew or collection round.
“We believe these changes have always been made in a fair and open way while taking into consideration the staff involved, including a number of commitments and offers to the GMB and our drivers.
“However, we are always keen to understand and work with GMB and staff to resolve any issues around this they may have.”
The 14-day strike started on Monday (4 October) and if the dispute cannot be settled in the meantime, drivers are due back at work on Monday 18 October.
The law prevents the council from bringing in agency workers in place of the striking drivers, the council said, although there is currently a wider shortage of suitably qualified drivers.
The dispute does not involve street sweepers who are still working.