Electricity workers ‘pause’ strike action after new pay offer

SONI's general manager, Robin McCormick, and the then DUP energy minister Jonathan Bell
SONI's general manager, Robin McCormick, and the then DUP energy minister Jonathan Bell

A trade union representing electricity workers in Northern Ireland says it hopes a deal on pay can be reached and future strike action can be avoided.

Members of the Prospect trade union at the System Operator for Northern Ireland (SONI) had been due to strike on Monday.

But following a revised pay offer that action has now been suspended.

The union, which represents more than 100 SONI employees – the vast majority of its staff – insists the threat of strike action has been “paused” pending the outcome of a ballot of its members.

But it revealed that it will be recommending they accept the improved pay offer.

SONI, which runs the electricity grid in Northern Ireland, confirmed that it has made a revised proposal to Prospect in relation to the pay dispute, which includes arbitration through the Labour Relations Agency.

Welcoming suspension of the strike action, Robin McCormick, SONI’s general manager, said: “We welcome the fact that Prospect members at SONI have agreed to suspend the planned industrial action following an improved offer and a proposal to engage in a process of arbitration.

“We will now focus on reaching agreement on the pay claim and will also work to establish a system for future pay that ensures SONI’s services remain value for money for NI electricity users.”

Angela Moffatt, Prospect’s negotiations officer for Northern Ireland, said “sustained negotiations” over the last 24 hours had led to Monday’s strike action being averted.

She said all action has been “suspended or paused pending the outcome of the member ballot on the latest company pay offer and offer of arbitration.”

“An improved pay offer will be put to members of Prospect shortly, which the union is recommending they accept. Further points of difference relating to the issue will be decided by binding arbitration,” she said.

“Both sides have agreed to suspend all current notified industrial action until 19 April 2019 , and have agreed an extension to the industrial action commencement period until 23 May 2019.

“If members of Prospect accept the offer made by SONI, then industrial action will cease. It’s hoped that by a combination of an improved pay offer, and an arbitration process to resolve remaining differences impartially and fairly, action will be avoided.

“Prospect are committed to resolving the current issues and are pleased that progress has been made.

“Key challenges for the future remain but we are committed to working in partnership wherever possible to avoid further conflict.”

Meanwhile, yesterday it was confirmed that Northern Ireland’s electricity grid can now be operated from an Irish government-owned control room in Dublin.

Industry sources say changes have been put in place over recent years to allow the Province’s power grid to be controlled by SONI’s parent company Eirgrid in Dublin.

One source said it made practical sense and was an outworking of the single electricity market on the island.