Thousands of Birmingham City Council workers to vote on strike action

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Thousands of city council workers could be about to go on strike

Thousands of workers at Birmingham city council’s may walk out and take strike action after claims of delays to deliver equal pay.

GMB Union have announced that they will ballot thousands of workers across Birmingham city council for strike action over ongoing pay discrimination. The ballot comes as the union escalates calls for full and fair compensation for the sex discrimination faced by women working for the Labour-led local authority.

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The union made their feelings known at the Queen’s Baton Relay finishing line last month, where 20 GMB members took part in a peaceful demonstration.

The trade union believes that Birmingham council’s job evaluation scheme undervalues the work of those in jobs predominantly done by women, such as teaching assistants, cleaners and catering staff.

GMB survey in June this year revealed 1 in 5 Birmingham council workers are having to rely on food banks to feed their families.

Last month, the trade union called upon Ian Ward, leader of Birmingham city council to “urgently intervene” in pay disputes. Members will now receive their ballots next week and will have until September 2 to have their say on whether to take strike action.

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Members of GMB attending Victoria Square as the Queen\'s Baton Relay concluded in Birmingham. Copyright Finbar BowieMembers of GMB attending Victoria Square as the Queen\'s Baton Relay concluded in Birmingham. Copyright Finbar Bowie
Members of GMB attending Victoria Square as the Queen\'s Baton Relay concluded in Birmingham. Copyright Finbar Bowie | Finbar Bowie

What’s been said about the strike?

Michelle McCrossen, GMB Union Organiser, said: “Every single day, thousands of women and men across Birmingham are going to work and being underpaid because of the council’s failure to value their work properly and fairly.

“These are the workers who help educate and feed our children, clean their schools, and keep Britain’s second city running, who are struggling to make ends meet because of Birmingham city council’s discriminatory pay policies.

“The council’s priorities are out of order. It can’t be right that saving the Brummie Bull commands more action and attention from the council leadership than settling equal pay.

“Birmingham City Council’s shameful history of sex discrimination has already cost the city hundreds of millions of pounds and forced them to sell off city assets, and their failure to fix the problem means that bill is growing by the day.

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“ It’s time for Birmingham City Council to grab the equal pay bull by the horns and settle this, once and for all.”

Members of GMB attending Victoria Square as the Queen\'s Baton Relay concluded in Birmingham. Copyright Finbar BowieMembers of GMB attending Victoria Square as the Queen\'s Baton Relay concluded in Birmingham. Copyright Finbar Bowie
Members of GMB attending Victoria Square as the Queen\'s Baton Relay concluded in Birmingham. Copyright Finbar Bowie | LDR

Ian Ward, leader of Birmingham city council, said: “I am urging the council and GMB to get around the table and resolve this matter as quickly as possible.”

A Birmingham city council spokesperson said: “The council has been engaging with GMB on matters of equal pay since November 2021, and have already agreed a new approach to job evaluation.

“The council would encourage GMB to explore solutions working together, as it is committed to resolving historic equal pay issues, and has already settled with the majority of trade union members following a previous agreement.”

Birmingham City Council HouseBirmingham City Council House
Birmingham City Council House | LDRS

Here’s a breakdown on the big questions on the GMB union strike ballot in Birmingham

When and where exactly are the strikes?

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GMB union is currently balloting 7,000 of its members to vote yes for strike action. If the union is successful, workers will walk out across the Birmingham region.

It is expected the majority of workers will demonstrate outside Birmingham city’s council house, located at Victoria Square.

How bad will the disruption be?

It is not known how bad the disruption will be, but historically strikes involving GMB have dragged out. The most recent, involving workers employed by Serco to deliver Sandwell council’s bin services, was on and off for around a year.

What services will be impacted?

GMB’s 7,000 members at Birmingham City Council work in services across the city, including refuse, adult social care, education and administration. So expect delays to your bin services and council tax queries should the strike go ahead.

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Why are Birmingham city council workers considering a strike?

Birmingham city council has already been forced to pay out millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money in equal pay settlements in the previous decade.

In 2010, an employment tribunal ruled in favour of 4,000 female workers employed by Birmingham city council, including lollipop ladies and cleaners, who complained of being excluded from bonuses – worth up to 160% of their basic pay – paid to men.

They won the right to be paid the same as their male colleagues in a case which was reported to have payouts worth about £200m.

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170 women then won a supreme court ruling in 2012 that effectively extended the time limit for claiming back pay from six months to six years for cases between 2006 and 2012. Those equal pay settlements are estimated to have cost Birmingham city council £1.1 billion.

The Guardian also reported at the time the council had applied to the then local government secretary, Eric Pickles, for permission to borrow £325 million on top of the £430 million already secured to help fund the pay claims.

Since the landmark cases, GMB union has encouraged its 7,000 members at Birmingham not to sign any equal payment settlement offered to them by the council.

They claimed “significant new information” has arisen regarding problems with the council’s job evaluation scheme. They also claimed the council had admitted that key roles had been ‘evaluated wrongly’.

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In 2021, the union set up Birmingham Pay Justice, with thousands of members uniting behind demands for full and fair compensation for discrimination faced by Birmingham’s working women, and a call for the council to work with them to re-implement the job evaluation scheme.

Now the trade union is encouraging workers to vote for strike action, which if successful, will take place on September 2.

What is the city council planning to do?

It’s a sticky situation for Birmingham city council as a large proportion of their councillors, the majority of them Labour, are GMB members.

A report presented at the council in April this year was approved for the council to move £3.5 million from their Policy Contingency Fund to help complete all phases of job evaluation and pay & grading programmes.

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The report signals the council’s hope to implement a “robust pay structure” with a more attractive salary, and more flexibility to pay in line with the market.

The council, according to the report, had spent approximately £80 million on “total contingent labour” such as agency workers as a result of ‘hard to recruit’ roles and salaries advertised as lower than the national average.

Will the strikes definitely go ahead?

The council and GMB Union have both said they are open to further talks – and will be holding more up until the date for strike action.

However, talks over equal pay have gone back and forth over the previous decade, and there has been little progress.

What is the right to strike?

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There is no legal right to strike in the UK, but there is limited protection for individuals from unfair dismissal and the right to associate in the European Convention on Human Rights.

The so-called “right to strike” only exists provided that certain conditions are met. Strikes and other forms of industrial action invariably involve a breach of contract.

Birmingham city council, therefore, could lawfully dismiss their employees and even refuse to pay for services not provided.

Are Birmingham city council workers well paid?

According to pay documents for the financial year 2021/22, the lowest paid employees under a contract of employment with the council are employed on full time equivalent (FTE) is £17,842. The documents also say the council pay the ‘Real Living Wage’ equivalent of £9.50 per hour, or a FTE salary of £18,080.

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