Unions tell council: It’s still not too late to avoid our strike

Union leaders insist there is still time to avoid a strike at a Northern Ireland council that is set to effectively shut down all services next week.

By Niall Deeney
Thursday, 4th August 2022, 8:01 am

The Unite, GMB and Nipsa unions are all set to go on strike in the Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Council area after a breakdown in talks earlier this week.

If it goes ahead, it will represent the first occasion in the recent wave of council strikes in Northern Ireland that members of all three trade unions have taken to picket lines together.

The unions and the council are at odds over pay and terms and conditions.

A picket by Unite members in Belfast earlier this year

The council, in a statement issued to the News Letter earlier this week, insisted it had made a pay offer worth £3,000 once two one-off payments were set alongside a nationally awarded increase.

But the unions told the News Letter the second of the two payments referred to by the council had not been guaranteed during talks on Tuesday, and in a statement yesterday said equal pay rates for members spread across the different council areas had not been agreed.

In the statement, a spokesperson for the three unions said: “The dispute also centres over how pay differences and disparities in terms and conditions inherited from legacy councils more than five years ago will be harmonised.

“Due to management delay in engaging with us on this issue, ABC District Council is now the last remaining council to resolve it. The point in contention is that for those workers whose pay grades are re-evaluated upwards, they will lose all pay progression accrued and will start at the bottom of the new grades.

“This is not acceptable to our members – it is a pay equality issue. While senior management have dragged their heels in dealing with pay harmonisation for lower paid workers, they agreed and have benefited from their own regrading years ago. We are just asking for some recognition of our members’ contribution since the establishment of the new council.”

The unions stress, meanwhile, that the strike could still be averted.

“Even at this stage it is not too late for management to avert this avoidable strike action by addressing our members’ legitimate concerns and we call on them to do so,” the spokesperson added.

Elsewhere in Northern Ireland, a strike by members of the Unite trade union is continuing in the Mid Ulster Council area.

The leaders of the Sinn Fein, DUP, UUP and SDLP groupings in the council have made a joint appeal to the public over abuse of staff during the strike.

“Before anyone shouts or swears at a member of our staff, we ask that they stop and think: if this was your son, daughter, wife, husband, brother or sister, and they were at work, doing their jobs to the best of their ability, how would you feel about them being on the receiving end of rude and aggressive behaviour or foul language,” they said.

A ballot, meanwhile, has now opened for Nipsa and GMB members on possible strike action in Ards and North Down.