If you’ve not been directly affected by the ongoing bin collection dispute in Birmingham, you will certainly have heard about it in the press. This is my understanding of the dispute. Grade 2 rubbish collectors work in teams collecting rubbish across Birmingham. They are supervised by one Grade 3 collector who also collects rubbish but has additional health and safety responsibilities. In May, the Council decided to make 122 of these Grade 3 employees redundant. 
 
The Council say that the driver of the 12 tonne rubbish trucks could perform the health and safety role, which the Grade 3 employees are currently responsible for. So, Birmingham City Council are proposing to downgrade the existing Grade 3 employees or, if they refuse, make them redundant.  The impact on the employees is either a loss of £5,000 a year or redundancy. £5,000 is a lot of money to someone whose annual salary is £21,000. 
 
There are clearly two sides to this dispute and I suspect it will rumble on for some while. 

Do you know what your legal rights are if your employer imposes changes to your contract of employment? 

Usually, employment contracts are changed by mutual agreement of the parties. Your employer should approach you and set out what the proposed changes are and how they affect you. In some cases, the employment contract itself will allow for changes to be made. If your employer relies on this you should get the contract reviewed by a legal professional to establish they can make the changes proposed. 
 
Some contracts allow for a contract to be changed through a collective agreement; this is normally in workplaces that are unionised such as Birmingham City Council. Where more than 20 employees are effected, an employer must follow a fair and transparent consultation procedure. In the rubbish collector’s case, negotiations have failed with the Council and the union. The Council are now saying they will terminate contracts of employment and offer a new contract to start immediately after termination takes effect. Legally, they are able to do this. 
 
In my opinion dismissal and re-engagement should be a last resort, after all consultation and negotiation has failed. By using this method an employee could bring successful claims for unfair dismissal, constructive dismissal or unlawful deduction from wages. 
 
If you are an employee and your employer is attempting to vary your employment contract, please give our specialist employment solicitors a call. Alternatively, if you are an employer and wish to change your employees’ contracts, we can help you do this legally and avoid the problems experienced by Birmingham City Council 
We provide specific employment law advice in plain English. 
 
Carina Jheeta 
Employment Solicitor 
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