Editorial: More strikes in Northern Ireland, yet Stormont MLAs rarely say a word against such action

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News Letter editorial on Wednesday May 22 2024:

​For two years, Northern Ireland has been hit by strikes, mostly in the public sector.

​The reasons for the industrial action are various, but the most common justification is pay. Wage levels are said to have fallen in real terms over a period of years.

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Northern Ireland has lost more days to strikes than the rest of the UK. And no wonder. We were told for two years that the province needed Stormont back. Look how many times the BBC NI website led with a sentimental story about someone who was suffering due to a delay with a particular public service, which was then implicitly or explicitly blamed on the absence of devolution.

In fact the very opposite is the truth: Stormont when it has been in operation since 1998 has either done nothing to tackle difficult service problems, or made them worse. The obvious example is healthcare, in which weak and populist politicians have refused to carry out reforms in NHS provision urged by a succession of expert reports.

Even before Stormont’s return, cross-party MLAs all either openly backed strike action or – more often – impliedly did by not criticising those who have taken action.

The News Letter has repeatedly tried to report both sides to this story. That when, for example, educational staff go on strike then people, above all schoolchildren, suffer. We have tried to give space to the view that you cannot look at pay in isolation from other employment packages, above all pension provision, which for public sector employees is so dramatically more generous than in the private sector that workers on the same salary can, in the public sector, expect much higher occupational pensions for life than their private counterparts.

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This week educational support staff and junior doctors are out on strike. These two categories of worker do hugely valuable work but that is not of itself justification for the harm that downing tools causes to patients and pupils.