Northern Ireland council set for ‘total shutdown’ as three unions prepare to strike next week after ‘insulting’ pay offer tabled in last-ditch talks

The Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon council is set to be hit with “total shutdown” as three trade unions representing the overwhelming majority of staff prepare to strike next week.

By Niall Deeney
Tuesday, 2nd August 2022, 3:54 pm
Updated Tuesday, 2nd August 2022, 5:27 pm

The strike plans, which were last night being discussed by members of the Unite, GMB and NIPSA trade unions, comes after what one representative described as an “insulting” offer from management of a one-off, £600 payment with no percentage pay increase on the table.

The council, however, has insisted its offer is worth £3,000.

NIPSA representative Kevin Kelly, speaking to the News Letter, said: “You would, presumably, have to pay taxes on that £600. That wouldn’t even get you half a tank of oil.”

Bin collections.

A ballot of members of both GMB and NIPSA closed on Tuesday afternoon, with a large majority in each having voted in favour of a strike.

The Unite trade union, meanwhile, has been engaged in a continuous industrial dispute with all 11 local councils in Northern Ireland having already secured a mandate from its members for strike action in an earlier ballot.

Notice of the strike action is now set to be given by all three councils on Wednesday, meaning that under legislation governing industrial action in Northern Ireland the first available date for the strike to take place would be Wednesday next week, August 10.

The News Letter understands the options under consideration by the unions following Tuesday’s ballot results included at least a one-day strike on August 10 involving all three unions, who combined represent more than 80% of the council’s total workforce.

Following the one-day strike, the GMB trade union is understood to be considering an initial seven-day period of full strike action.

Unite is understood to be considering a strike lasting four weeks.

NIPSA, meanwhile, is understood to be considering a period of industrial action short-of-strike following the one-day strike by all three trade unions on August 10.

NIPSA official Kevin Kelly said: “Unite, as you know, had already balloted and had suspended their industrial action.

“But given that what management offered at today’s meeting [Tuesday], which falls well short of our expections, we are going to be serving notice of all-out industrial action starting on Wednesday [August 10] involving all of the unions.

“They offered £600, and the possibility of maybe another £600 some time next year.”

He added: “When all three unions are out together, it will be total shutdown of effectively all council services.”

Alan Perry, from the GMB trade union, said: ““The offer was insulting. We had a 91% vote in favour of strike, and 95% for action short of strike, so a massive, massive mandate. You are looking at a shutdown on a scale that this council has not seen before, or any council in this recent wave of industrial action.”

A spokesperson for Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council said: “Over the past number of months Management and Trade Unions have been engaging with the aim of progressing a number of matters that are important to everyone, these include moving forward with the filling of structures and the assimilation process and taking steps to assist in addressing the cost of living challenges currently facing our staff and the people, communities and businesses we serve in the Borough.

“A meeting between Council Management and Joint Trade Unions took place this morning, 2 August 2022. Mindful of the significant financial impact of the national pay award on the Council, yet still wishing to address the immediate cost of living pressures being faced by staff, the council offered two £600 payments, the first to be made in September 2022, with the second payment to be made in December 2022/January 2023.

“This £1,200 offer was to all full and part time employees in council (pro rata), a one-off payment from council reserves of over £2million, designed to meet current financial challenges for staff whilst minimising additional burden on the rate payer.”

The council spokesperson continued: “When taken together with the national pay award this would have meant over £3,000 in additional payments to each member of staff this year. In percentage terms this would represent an in year 17% improvement for a scale 1 employee and a 12.4% betterment for a scale 5 employee.

“Unfortunately this offer has been rejected by Joint Trade Unions, however Council will reconvene discussions early next week.”