Strike action to affect second NI council from next week

Residents in Lisburn and Castlereagh are set to see the return of strike action next week, with members of the Unite union set to take to picket lines from Tuesday.
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And they could soon be joined by members of two more trade unions – Nipsa and GMB – who are due to ballot members with a view to joining the strike early in October unless negotiations result in a breakthrough beforehand.

The News Letter revealed yesterday that the GMB union are set to ballot members on a possible strike in Lisburn and Castlereagh, but the Unite union has now announced it is to stage a walk-out from Tuesday onwards.

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It is not the first time Unite have gone on strike in Lisburn and Castlereagh this year, following similar action in the spring that affected all 11 local government areas in a dispute over public sector pay amid the cost-of-living crisis that also affected the Housing Executive and Education Authority.

Staff from armagh Banbridge and Craigavon CouncilStaff from armagh Banbridge and Craigavon Council
Staff from armagh Banbridge and Craigavon Council

This time around, however, Unite has not announced an end date for its action and said instead that it is moving to a “continuous” strike.

And if they are joined in October by GMB and Nipsa members it will represent the second council area to be hit with what amounts to an almost total shutdown of services.

Industrial action involving all three unions in the Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Council is now into its third week and bins are overflowing, rubbish is strewn across play parks, and council services including leisure centres have been severely disrupted.

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Announcing the move to continuous strike action from September 6, a spokesperson for Unite said: “After the breakdown of talks involving all three representative trade unions, Unite, GMB and Nipsa, strike action is now set to proceed at Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council.

“Unite the union lodged confirmation that its approximately 200 members would commence continuous strike action starting 6th September 2022.”

The spokesperson continued: “Unite has been seeking localised pay agreements with councils, the Housing Executive, the Education Authority and other education employers after the union rejected a national pay offer which failed to protect workers from the cost-of-living crisis.

“Industrial disputes which had saw extensive strikes at Mid-Ulster District Council and Derry City and Strabane District Council were ended after Unite members voted to accept a pay increase including a two pay point increase and a cash payment.”

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The spokesperson added: “At other councils in Northern Ireland, strike actions are suspended to allow negotiations in order that management make suitable offers.”

The union’s general secretary for the whole of the UK, Sharon Graham, pledged her support for the striking workers: “With retail price inflation now above 12% and forecast to rise to 18% by the end of the year, workers are organising to win pay increases that provide real protection against the cost-of-living crisis.

“Unite is fighting to win inflation-plus pay increases for many of our members in many workplaces.”

She added: “While bosses at other councils have moved to offer decent pay increases and end strike action, those at Lisburn and Castlereagh have failed to make any offer at all. This leaves the workers there with no option but to strike.

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“The Unite members at Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council can be confident that they have the full support of my union.”

The News Letter has approached Lisburn and Castlereagh Council for comment.

GMB and Nipsa are also due to ballot members in the Newry, Mourne and Down Council area on a possible strike.

Nispa official Kevin Kelly, speaking to the News Letter yesterday, said: “We are going to ballot for both Lisburn and Castlereagh and Newry, Mourne and Down. Official notice of dispute was sent to Lisburn in relation to the three unions last week. Newry, Mourne and Down is similar. We are going to give notice to ballot on the 1st of September, on Thursday.

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“The ballots will open on the 8th of September and will be due to close then on the 29th, so I believe action would take place on the 10th of October. If we follow that draft timetable, both councils would see all-out action from all three unions on the 10th of October.”

He added: “The blueprint will probably be the same as the ABC Council.”