Strike action could be taken as the GMB and Brighton and Hove City Council once again come to blows over the issue of bin collection.
After revisions to the service at the end of last year, the ongoing dispute over bin collection and the flood of complaints continues.
The union has warned that unless council chiefs speak to them today they will open a strike ballot.
The GMB issued its ultimatum on Twitter The Sussex branch tweeted: “Today we inform Brighton and Hove City Council our intention to ballot for industrial action on refuse and recycling.
“We have written to the chief executive today and given until Friday to meet or seek resolution before starting the official process.”
It said the reason for the ballot was “the repeated failure to consult with the workforce on the round reorganisation that's causing chaos in the city”.
The branch said workforce morale was “very low” in Brighton and Hove The GMB composed a letter to council chief executive Penny Thompson, outlining its ultimatum.
Mark Turner, Brighton and Hove branch secretary for the GMB, called the current state of collection a “shambles”.
He said the latest disputes have become “the straw that broke the camel’s back” in leading to the strike threat.
He said: “I would ask the chief executive to take a personal interest and to sit down with us and resolve these issues.”
“If we do not have any contact from the council we will start the legal process required for strike action.
“We do not want to do this but something must be done.”
The union believes workers are getting blamed over late collection but have not been given enough bin lorries to cope.
It also believes there has been a lack of consultation about changes being made to the service.
Mr Turner said: “The workforce has faced criticism from the public but it is not to do with them.
“The fact is they are not supported by their own management.”
The union represents more than three hundred workers at Cityclean and strike action last year brought rubbish collection to a total standstill.
Changes were made to the refuse service in October and the GMB argues these left crews “underequipped” and the consistent problem is a “management one, not a workforce one”.
Geoff Raw, executive director for environment, development and housing at the council, said: “The council’s management team has been working closely with staff and their trade union representatives to find a solution that ensures our staff are working safe and manageable shifts under a pay and allowance system that is affordable, consistent and compliant with equal pay legislation.
“We have suggested a number of options, and we will continue to work together with the trade unions to find a deliverable solution and we’ll be meeting with them next week.
“We recognise it has been a difficult year for all concerned.
“We would be very dismayed if residents were to experience further disruption to their refuse and recycling collections at a time when we are all focussed on making sure they have a reliable and consistent service.”
Changes to the service
Changes were made in October last year which the GMB said left the workforce unable to meet the demand. On October 7 five vehicles from the Cityclean fleet were taken off the roads and the rounds were shifted.
From October to March the council also rolled out the new communal recycling scheme with large black bins shared by residents The new communal recycling system has also been affected by the problems with the service, with residents reporting the bins are sometimes left overflowing for weeks without collection.
The city council has a total of 45 vehicles in the fleet and in February the council told The Argus it had purchased new vehicles, with the first two due to be delivered in July and another 11 between September and October.
The vehicles are designed to help alleviate problems with the ageing fleet, which are characterised by vehicle breakdowns leading to backlogged collections.
In February refuse collections were disrupted when Cityclean had eight vehicles out of commission.
Council leader Jason Kitcat, pictured, visited the Cityclean depot in Hollingdean on Wednesday along with Geoff Raw and other council members to discuss the state of the fleet.
Coun Kitcat said: “The meeting at the depot was planned for some time.
Councillors and directors were there to look at our existing vehicle fleet and to get a first hand understanding of how ageing outdated vehicles have been affecting the waste and recycling collection service.
“Cityclean has recently finalised orders for new vehicles which is part of the service improvements we are putting in place to further improve reliability and efficiency.
“Crews will also be able to use mobile technology and speak directly to the contact centre when they encounter problems or residents call in about missed or delayed collections.
“We were all impressed with the work and progress of the staff, particularly given the pressures they have been under.”
Residents are caught in the middle
Residents have been caught in the middle while the council and the union argue over the reasons for the lack of service.
Since changes to the service were made in October bin collections have been reported by residents to be infrequent, inconsistent and sometimes non-existent.
Judi Semus, 51, of Mount Fields in Hollingdean, said: “After missing last week, the recycling around the estate will not be collected until our next official date, and that is next week.
“It is pretty appalling.”
She added that when phoning in a complaint to the council, she was initially told they would be collected by crews clearing the backlog after a problem with the collection vehicles. But she said this did not happen.
Residents have also said they do not receive responses when they issue complaints to Cityclean, only automated replies.
Michael Ott, of Whippingham Road off Elm Grove, reported that his bins were last collected on March 10.
The council advice for missed collections on its website reads: “We are working very hard to catch up on missed collections and really appreciate how difficult this has been for some residents.
“Please be assured we are doing everything we can to get the collections back on track as quickly as possible.
“Our contact centre is receiving lots of calls so we are sorry if you experience a delay in trying to contact us. Your call and feedback is important to us in improving our service.
“If your collection has been missed, please leave your bins out and we will collect them as soon as we can.
“We apologise for the inconvenience.”
Residents said the advice to leave their bins out and wait for collection is often fruitless as days go by and their streets begin to look dirty, smell and the bins encourage vermin.
One Argus website commenter said: “Since the rounds were meddled with I am now faced with guessing which day my recycling is collected.
“The council is expecting the crews to do more with less and they also say it will mean a better service. I don't think so.”
Looking for a new boss
This latest dispute comes as Brighton and Hove City Council announced it is recruiting a new boss for its Cityclean and parks service.
The successful candidate will get a £75,000 a year salary.
The council states it is looking for a confident and credible manager who can bring about change in a fast paced and high profile setting, adding that the ideal person, “will be an experienced professional with exemplary leadership skills, offering a strong track record of performance and resource management, as well as cultural transformation.”
It added: “There is a very real job to be done here, but for the right person, it will be a job they will relish. In return, you will receive considerable support from your peers and have the opportunity to make a significant contribution to delivering the council's objectives.”
Last year’s strike
The streets were piled high with rubbish in June last year when the GMB took strike action against the council in a dispute over pay.
The strike was triggered when the council suspended 11 binmen as a result of unofficial strike action.
In the hot summer sun, piles of waste were left to fester as the council and the union debated further action.
The strike lasted one week and the streets were awash with both rubbish and protesters.
Residents pulled together during the dispute, staging community clean-up efforts.
Eventually the strike was settled after a new pay offer was made to the workers.
Binmen also walked out in 2009 and 2011.