Industrial relations in Northern Ireland remain sour amid cost-of-living crisis as GB braces for rail strike chaos

Sour industrial relations in Northern Ireland show no sign of improving amid the worsening cost-of-living crisis as GB braces today for widespread strike disruption by transport workers.

By Niall Deeney
Tuesday, 21st June 2022, 6:07 am
Members of the trade union Unite at a protest at Stormont in March during public sector industrial action
Members of the trade union Unite at a protest at Stormont in March during public sector industrial action

Here, members of the trade union Unite are now into a third month of strikes at Caterpillar sites in Larne and Springvale, Belfast having rejected a pay offer by the company that failed to match the soaring costs faced by workers.

Unite has now begun to target Caterpillar’s investors with protests in London at Blackrock, Vanguard, and State Street in a bid to highlight the plight of workers in Northern Ireland.

This comes as both Unite and RMT (Rail, Maritime and Transport) union members in GB prepare for strike action today in what is set to be the largest walkout in the sector for a generation.

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Strike action by public transport workers in Northern Ireland was narrowly avoided in late May following last-minute talks between Translink and the Unite and GMB trade unions.

A similar last-ditch attempt to strike a deal in GB failed yesterday.

In Northern Ireland, industrial relations have deteriorated across a range of sectors. The largest teaching union, the NASUWT, is currently engaged in industrial action short of a strike in a dispute that also involves pay.

Unite members at Moy Park, meanwhile, have recently been on strike.

The News Letter understands that the same union is currently at an advanced stage of preparations for possible strike action at private sector workplaces in the Craigavon area.

And a dispute over pay that brought strike action by workers in the Education Authority, Northern Ireland Housing Executive, and in local councils has been suspended to allow talks to continue, but remains an active disupte that could yet see a return to strike action.

That particular dispute relates to a pay offer negotiated for the entire UK last year. Fresh talks are now ongoing at a UK level.

Unite, meanwhile, is seeking to continue to put pressure on Caterpillar investors in light of its members’ strike action in Northern Ireland.

The union’s general secretary, Sharon Graham, said: “Caterpillar’s big City investors cannot wash their hands of how this company is mistreating these workers. Our protests will continue until they stand by their fine words with concrete action. And this strike will continue, with the full support of Unite, until Caterpillar behaves with decency towards this workforce.”

Regional officer for the workforce, George Brash, said: “These investors in their big offices are the beneficiaries of profit made on the back of workers and industrial policies which seek to undermine the living standards of workers people everywhere.

“Our members are not having it.”