Senior officials at Brighton and Hove City Council have been accused of bringing pay into the bin strike by raising the prospect of including lorry drivers on a higher pay scale.
The GMB union said that pay was not the reason for the bin lorry drivers walking out last week but that the council’s offer would have a knock-on effect across the workforce.
In an email to councillors, GMB branch secretary Mark Turner said that, as a result, the union proposed gradings to resolve that dispute but these had been rejected and the offer to drivers had been withdrawn.
The email, sent by Mr Turner this morning (Tuesday 12 October), gives the GMB’s side of the story. Read what council chief executive Geoff Raw had to say in a report to councillors here.
Mr Turner’s email said: “Dear Councillors, Further to … the information you may or may not have received from the minority administration and senior council officers regarding the alleged ‘walk out’ by GMB in current negotiations.
“Firstly, for over 10 weeks prior to strike action we have been attempting to resolve this dispute before our members resorted to industrial action but for that period of time council officers repeatedly went round in circles and failed to deal with these issues we identified on behalf of our members.
“In fact, Nick Hibberd (executive director for the economy, environment and culture) and Rachel Chasseaud (assistant director for city environment) on a number of occasions went into denial mode about these issues.
“Some of the effects of these issues on our members culminated in one of our members suffering a heart attack and being hospitalised but still management failed to deal with the issues.
“At no stage at this point did the chief exec (Geoff Raw) attempt to contact myself or anyone else in GMB to intervene or seek resolution.
“On a number of occasions, by telephone, email and text messages, I attempted to make contact with the leader of the council (Geoff Raw) but again with no success.
“It wasn’t until the workforce were already on strike that the chief exec decided to become involved in this dispute, having seen the negative effect of the strike on the council’s reputation but, at that point, still no contact from the political leadership of the council.
“During the meetings with the chief exec, exec director for environment and head of HR (Ali McManamon), we again raised and explained the issues and concerns our members had, in particular in regards mutual trust and confidence – how they were being treated, council management not following internal procedures, staff not being provided adequate equipment, ie, vehicles, not following the signed ACAS agreement in 2019 and – as another example of being told things that never end up happening – described when the chief exec stood in front of the workforce three years ago promising drivers’ pay would be looked at and reviewed.
“These points were just a few examples of the workforce’s lack of confidence and trust in the chief exec and his officers in sticking to their word and agreements.
“Based on that, at the next meeting that took place last Wednesday (6 October), the chief exec, executive director of environment and head of HR put forward, along with other things, an offer of increasing the drivers’ pay band.
“We had not previously raised about increasing the drivers’ pay, we only referenced it as example of the lack of trust and confidence in regards what the staff are often told but don’t see followed through.
“We advised the chief exec at that meeting of what we believed would be the correct pay for the drivers but also raised that if we were to deal with drivers’ pay, we would have to address the pay of the whole workforce because if not, there was a risk of resolving one dispute for one group of workers only to head straight into another dispute with another group of staff.
“We therefore put forward what we believed would be the correct pay gradings for all groups of staff and the chief exec and his negotiating team took a number of adjournments from that meeting, returning to advise us that they agreed with our position of drivers being increased to scale 6 but they didn’t necessarily agree with the other banding we described and wanted further discussions on those.
“We were told the negotiating team would need to cost these implications and take a ‘political steer’ which we agreed to but stated what we didn’t want to hear, given they had raised the pay issue, is excuses of equal pay or Unison which have been used previously in housing repairs dispute – and councillors know what happened there.
“Very briefly, we put forward a proposal early on to resolve that dispute with suggested gradings but council officers, namely the chief exec as a negotiator, rejected our proposal on legal grounds and briefed you as councillors to that effect.
“Six months later he came back to offer us what he told us we couldn’t have when we proposed it previously, so hopefully you can understand why we have a lack of trust and confidence in your negotiating team because the track record of the chief exec and head of HR on these matters isn’t very positive.
“On Friday last week (8 October) we eventually got a meeting with Councillor Mac Cafferty, Councillor Clare and Councillor Davis, where for the first time we were able to share our side of the story where previously they had only heard the officer side which we believe is questionable.
“At the end of that meeting, we were offered scale 6 pay band for the drivers but were told they wanted further discussions on Monday (11 October) regarding the other elements of the workforce and of our dispute.
“We agreed to meet on Monday subject to us getting a proposal. Over the weekend I received an email from the chief exec advising me that a briefing would be going out to group leaders and that the council would put a final offer to us which would go to a special P&R (Policy and Resources) Committee.
“He also asked if I would be available for a telephone conversation with him on Sunday afternoon. (I am more than happy to release that email if you require it.)
“I responded to that, questioning whether the offer was truly a final offer or not and whether there was any room for negotiation still and the chief exec then stepped back from the statement regarding the ‘final offer’ and said that it would be for the special P&R to make that decision on Tuesday (12 October).
“For your information, I did not receive a call from the chief exec on Sunday, only a text message at approximately 7.50pm Sunday evening advising me that the administration may want a meeting on Monday.
“Yesterday (Monday 11 October), I made a call to the head of HR in regards to an unrelated matter to this dispute and near the end of that call she informed me that council officers and the administration would like to meet that day at 1pm.
“I advised her that I was unavailable due to other commitments (with meetings regarding members being made redundant elsewhere in the council) that I believed would be priority but she, the chief exec and Nick Hibberd decided to cancel the meeting I was due to attend at 1pm and rang me to inform me of that.
“I advised her that we needed to receive the offer prior to attending the meeting and then later reiterated that by email, copying all parties into that, but we still didn’t receive it.
“At approximately 12.30pm to 12.40pm I received a telephone call from one of the councillors involved in negotiations encouraging us to attend that meeting and checking that we intended to and I advised them again that we wanted to see the offer.
“At 1pm we attended the meeting at Hove Town Hall with Councillor Mac Cafferty, Councillor Clare, Councillor Davis, executive director Nick Hibberd and head of HR Alison McManamon where we advised them again that we still hadn’t received the offer.
“Councillor Mac Cafferty informed us that they would talk us through it, which they did – presented by Nick Hibberd and Alison McManamon and we listened to that.
“During the presentation, in regards to the grading for the workforce, she on behalf of the administration came back with a proposal of scale 5 for the drivers, which was one grade less than they had offered last Wednesday and Friday and had already said was achievable.
“At that stage, one of my colleagues asked that, as they are aware of what we are looking for, is there any room to achieve that or have further negotiation and the head of HR replied ‘no’ to that so with that we left the meeting as there was little point continuing any further discussions on that.
“At that stage of leaving, Councillor Mac Cafferty stated he was ‘sorry’.
“In conclusion, it was the council political leadership and head of paid service that raised and put on the table the issue of pay, not the GMB, although we obviously responded to that – it would be irresponsible of us not to.
“We have obviously continually communicated with our members throughout negotiations and so they are fully aware of what was/is on the table financially so it is the political leadership and your paid service that have created the issue. We now have to deal with that.
“The GMB is perfectly happy to return to the negotiating table, anytime, anywhere but Councillor Mac Cafferty and the chief exec need to put what they promised back on the table for the drivers – scale 6 – so we can continue to discuss the other elements of their proposals.”
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