Council worker strikes could resume if talks break down: Unite

As public transport users in Northern Ireland prepare for seven-day strike from next Tuesday, the threat of further industrial action by council employees appears to have ended for the time being.

By Mark Rainey
Thursday, 12th May 2022, 7:37 pm
Updated Thursday, 12th May 2022, 8:02 pm

A Unite union spokesman has said that while bin collections and other local council services are back to normal, industrial action has only been suspended pending ongoing talks with employers.

Talks are also taking place in an effort to prevent further closures of special needs schools where classroom assistants had joined the strike.

The Unite members walked out for 12 days from April 26 in protest at a pay offer of 1.75% – a rise they claim amounted to a real terms pay cut.

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Unite members staged a picket outside Glenveagh Special School in Belfast last month. Picture: Arthur Allison/Pacemaker Press.

Kieran Ellison of the Unite union said he isn’t aware that any councils have been notified of impending strike action. However, he added: “That doesn’t mean that the dispute has ended.”

Mr Ellison said that while the industrial action had been suspended in some areas, in some others “there is no movement and I fully expect strike action to be lodged again, but would be on an employer by employer basis.”

In relation to the dispute with the Education Authority, that had severely disrupted the provision for special educational needs children, he said: “We have suspended the industrial action there because the Education Authority, through the Department of Education, have agreed to enter into talks around a pay and grading review and, as such, we don’t want to take industrial action that would strain those talks.

“We want to allow those talks to breathe and develop to see if they go anywhere meaningful. If they fall down around us then Unite would need to review its position at that stage.”

Next week’s bus stoppage, which both the GMB and Unite unions say will cause a “complete shutdown” of bus services across Northern Ireland, had been due to take place last month but was put on hold to allow a ballot on a revised pay offer to take place.

However, that offer was ultimately rejected – meaning drivers, cleaners and shunters will stage a walkout from Tuesday May 17 to Monday May 23.

In an email to parents, Lagan College in Belfast said: “Unfortunately, the timing of this action coincides with a number of GCSEs and A-Levels examinations that are happening that week. It is vital that all students attend their GCSE and A-Level examinations. As a parent, you will need to make alternative arrangements to ensure your child is on time for all of their examinations.”

Alliance MLA Kellie Armstrong said parents “feel abandoned”.

She said: “Over a month ago, I called on Education Minister Michelle McIlveen to look ahead to this proposed strike and outline to parents her contingency plan for those pupils affected. To date, there has been nothing. Parents feel abandoned by this approach.”