Eve of election public transport strike called off

NI public transport strike called off
NI public transport strike called off

An eve of poll strike - which threatened to bring public transport in Northern Ireland to a standstill - has been called off, union leaders said.

Unite claimed Stormont’s transport minister had decided to put on hold planned cuts to frontline bus and rail services. Industrial action by drivers had been scheduled for May 6 and was due to last 24 hours.

The next three months will be dedicated to achieving “compensating efficiencies” across transport provider Translink, its parent company and the Department for Regional Development (DRD), regional officer Davy McMurray said.

“As a result of today’s (Friday’s) commitments, we are deferring the planned action,” he added.

He said, through the threat of strike action, Unite had led resistance to proposals that would threaten cuts to more than 50 bus services and the Larne-Belfast and Bangor-Newry rail lines.

Mr McMurray said: “Today, Minister Kennedy has agreed to place a hold on proposals for bus and rail cuts and associated job losses.

“He also committed his willingness to open the books of Translink, Northern Ireland Transport Holding Company and DRD to enable the identification of off-setting efficiencies at management and corporate level.”

A widespread public service strike was held on March 13, which caused disruption to transport.

Mr McMurray added: “Unite is opposed to the Assembly’s austerity cuts, which will undermine public services and adversely impact the most vulnerable in our society.”

Gordon Milligan, human resources director at Translink, said the organisation wrote to Unite at the end of last week highlighting the impact their strike would have on passengers, especially schoolchildren sitting exams.

“This is good news for our passengers and in particular parents and schoolchildren.

“It is clear now that Unite have acknowledged the need to find efficiency savings in the Translink business. We look forward to discussions with union officials to ensure Translink can be put on a sustainable financial footing for the future.

“That is why the management team has been driving forward a change programme within Translink over recent months and we welcome the support of Unite in finding further cost reductions.”

Transport minister Danny Kennedy confirmed he had agreed that Translink will put on hold the outcome of their recent consultation process.

He said: “This is to allow Unite time to produce an alternative set of efficiency proposals for consideration and I have asked Translink and my officials to assist them, as required, in this process.

“On that basis, the threat of industrial action has been suspended. I know this will be a relief to the public who rely on public transport and for those schoolchildren who are sitting exams on this day.

“In addition, I am requiring regular progress reports on the development of alternative proposals.”

While meeting union officials, he made it clear that £6-7 million savings must be found this year.

He said: “I have given my commitment that I will fully consider all proposals that are produced.

“As Transport Minister, I have no doubt of the challenges which lie ahead. However, I am fully committed to improving and developing public transport in Northern Ireland.”