The joint Labour opposition leader John Allcock blasted the Greens for their handling of the bin lorry drivers strike this afternoon (Wednesday 13 October).
Councillor Allcock also called for a “fire safety exemption” for bins stores under tower blocks which, he said, members of the GMB union “could reasonably accommodate”.
He spoke out at a special meeting of Brighton and Hove City Council’s Policy and Resources Committee at Hove Town Hall.
The only item on the agenda this afternoon was the strike by drivers at Cityclean, the council’s rubbish and recycling service, which is scheduled to last until Sunday 21 November.
Councillor Allcock said that he was bitterly disappointed that the administration had allowed this dispute to escalate to these extremes.
He said: “We’re all seeing the rubbish and recycling piling up in the streets, encouraging rodent infestations and making residents suffer – residents who have already been experiencing months of problems with irregular collections of rubbish and recycling.
“They are exasperated as a long-term solution to the rubbish and recycling crisis hasn’t been forthcoming. And now, to cap it all, they are suffering with refuse piling up on the streets of Brighton and Hove.
“How did we get here? The administration had weeks to negotiate and resolve this dispute before industrial action was taken.
“Strike action is always a last resort, used when employees feel they are not being listened to and the issues they are raising not being resolved. Why didn’t you negotiate and resolve this sooner?
“If your negotiating team was not capable of resolving this dispute, why did you not bring in ACAS or an independent industrial relations expert to help before it got to the point of industrial action? Why have you still not brought in external support?
“Why did it take five days of strike action and waste piling up in the streets for the leader of the council to even meet with the union?
“When you eventually got round the table, why didn’t you negotiate a sensible dispensation relating to fire safety in bin stores below tower blocks that the union could reasonably accommodate, ie, with no strings attached?
“These are questions that residents reasonably expect answers to, as it is them who are suffering as a result of this administration’s failure to get these issues sorted.
“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?
“The last Labour administration in 2019 avoided industrial action by keeping lines of communication open and working hard with both unions and managers to find solutions.
“This included bringing in ACAS and a senior industrial relations expert that was respected by both parties involved in the dispute to help resolve a difficult situation and avoid strike action at Cityclean.
“We showed the hands on leadership that was required to get round the table early and resolve the dispute. That leadership is sadly missing now.
“Our residents desperately need the administration and the management team to take responsibility and step up to resolve this dispute. Please get on with it for the sake of residents.
“I could keep going with regards to how poorly this dispute has been handled up to now and what steps could have been taken sooner but I want to look forward, to how this can be resolved swiftly for our residents.
“The report before us today, that we only got sight of last night, has scant information in it. Far more work on financial detail is required if you expect councillors to make informed decisions for you.
“It’s not clear who is taking responsibility for what. There’s not even any mention of dispensation anywhere in the report. This report as it stands gives us no confidence that it will resolve the dispute.
“That’s why we’ve brought forward an amendment today to help seek a way forward. The intentions of our amendment are clear.
“You’ve presented several options here but the way negotiations work is that options remain on the table until an agreement is reached.
“So we are instructing the negotiating team to go back and meet with the GMB and come back to this committee with a deal once you’ve actually negotiated one. You seem to have got things back to front here.
“We are also instructing officers to immediately bring in third party support to help resolve the dispute (as you should have done already) and not make residents suffer even longer before bringing in the expertise required, as your report suggests.
“We are also instructing officers to urgently negotiate dispensation to address fire safety issues in bin stores below tower blocks.
“I’m astounded that your only attempt to do that so far involved attaching commercial strings and conditions and so was unsurprisingly turned down. Get back round the table and ask for dispensation with no strings attached.
“Residents need you to step up and get on with resolving this dispute so I’m urging you to support our amendment and get on with the job of negotiating and reaching a resolution.”
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