The mass cancellation of public transport services this Friday is set to prove “devastating” for the Province, an MLA has claimed.
Trevor Clarke, chairman of Stormont’s transport committee, warned that thousands of schoolchildren risk being left with no means to travel when Translink workers stage a major walk-out alongside colleagues elsewhere in the public sector, including health staff.
The Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) estimated that out of more than 210,000 public sector employees, up to 150,000 may take part.
All participating unions were balloted individually, and results have come back in the past week.
On Tuesday the full extent of the likely disruption began to emerge, with Translink saying that no scheduled services at all will operate on Friday.
With a flood of extra traffic expected on the roads, the police said they will not be enforcing bus lanes, essentially meaning they will become like another lane of regular traffic.
Mr Clarke, DUP MLA for South Antrim, said: “The effects are going to be devastating for those who have children needing to get to school in rural areas.
“It’s going to be devastating for people who rely on public transport and who need to get to work.”
He also said it is is likely to be “devastating” for employees who do not want to take action, but feel unable to cross picket lines set up by more militant colleagues.
He added that the upshot is “thousands of children are going to be left stranded who need to get to school”.
Translink said it is talking to individual education boards to see if they will be opening their schools, and discussing possible transport options.
The Department for Education said: “Parents should liaise with schools regarding attendance on Friday and consider making alternative arrangements to get children to school where possible.”
Queen’s and the University of Ulster said classes were set to continue as normal, and despite some action by Stormont staff, the Assembly said it will remain “open for business”.
Meanwhile, health trusts were bracing for the effects of the action.
Asked about the disruption the action will cause, a spokesman for the ICTU said: “What’s happening across all emergency services like health is that talks are going on to ensure that people in hospitals continue to be fed and looked after – emergency cover will happen.
“Strikes are supposed to be disruptive. One of the main points of a strike like this is sending the message that you can’t just take the public sector for granted.”
He said that public employees had become the “sacrificial lambs” of Stormont’s planned slashing of corporation tax, with cuts in their workplaces making up for the shortfall in tax which would be paid by business.
The strike is unconnected to anything that has happened politically in the last 48 hours, he said, and was instead about the wider issue of austerity.
He added it is “extremely unlikely” for it to be called off at this stage.
He said it is likely there will be more action afterwards “unless something fairly drastic happens with the budget”.
However, Mr Clarke said: “In an ideal world, we’d all love more money. But if it’s not coming, what do you do?”
Health trusts are currently trying to mitigate the effects of the strike action.
However, the Belfast Trust said it had already been forced to postpone some procedures.
The South Eastern Trust announced non-striking staff will be drafted in to help with meals, cleaning and portering, and said that some appointment cancellations are possible.
The Southern Trust said it would be “under pressure” but was trying to minimise disruption, while Western Trust officials warned that, although essential cover will continue, services to patients will be reduced.
The Northern Trust said that it is working to ensure that all essential work continues, though it added that “disruption to other services is, however, anticipated”.
The following workers are expected to take part in the strike according to the Irish Congress of Trade Unions:
• GMB members in Translink, the civil service and the education sector;
• Siptu members working school grounds and support staff (such as cleaners and dinner ladies);
• Unison members in the education and health sectors, ranging from classroom assistants and school support staff to nurses, hospital cleaners and care workers;
• Nipsa members in the health sector (who are largely white-collar support staff), classroom assistants and school support staff, plus civil servants and Stormont Assembly employees (like security, clerical and maintenance staff);
• Members of INTO, the Catholic schoolteachers’ union;
• Unite members in Translink, the roads service, and those working as classroom assistants and school support staff.
• Ambulance staff in the GMB, Unite, Unison and Nipsa are also due to strike, with talks due today on the level of cover available.
• No council workers are set to be involved.
The following marches are also planned according to the GMB:
• Belfast: Assemble Writers Square, noon. March off, 12.30pm, rally at the Belfast City Hall rally, 1pm.
• Londonderry: March from Altnagelvin Hospital, noon to the rally at Guildhall Square, 1pm
• Strabane: Assemble Market Square, noon. Rally at Abercorn Square, 1pm.
• Enniskillen: Assemble Gaol Square, 12.30pm. Rally at The Diamond, 1pm
• Omagh: Assemble Tyrone County Hospital, 12.30pm. Rally at the Courthouse, 1pm
• Magherafelt: Assemble and rally at The Diamond, 10am
• Cookstown: Assemble and rally at The Old Post Office, noon
• Dungannon: Assemble and rally at South Tyrone Hospital, 2pm
• Newry: Assemble and rally at Daisy Hill Hospital, 1pm