Northern Ireland strike action: Businessman brands latest strike action 'ridiculous' as Government set to release £600m for pay dispute
and live on Freeview channel 276
Public transport workers across Northern Ireland are striking in the first of four further days of action in February as part of a dispute over pay. The move by 3000 workers is expected to bring all trains and buses to a standstill.
Also striking on Thursday - for 48 hours - are some 800 educational support staff, who are members of Unite. Actions by members in various roles including school bus transport, catering, admin, cleaning and classroom assistants are likely to cause significant disruption across many schools.
The action comes after an unprecedented day of action on 18 January which saw over 100,000 members of public sector unions strike across NI over pay.
Secretary of State Chris Heaton-Harris responded by making £600m available to settle their pay dispute, but said it would only be released to Stormont when the assembly reforms. It is now reported that this could happen as early as Friday or Saturday this week.
Irwin Armstrong, who employs 35 people in the Ballymena-based medical diagnostics business Ciga Healthcare, said of the latest strike: “It is ridiculous. They have reached a deal and they are still striking. Why?”
The GMB union says it still needs to strike to ensure it gets a fair pay rise, as it says the last offer it was given was 0% in real terms.
But Mr Armstrong replied: “TransLink (which runs NI’s trains and buses) is a government owned organisation. So I think you'll see them getting enough money to keep everybody happy.“One of the things I know from my experience is the Translink bus drivers get paid more than private bus drivers, so they're not too badly off.
"So I think the whole concept of striking at the minute is totally wrong. There's so many other things going on that the strike will get lost. I think it's union leaders trying to exert power.”
But Peter Macklin, GMB Regional Organiser, disagreed. “At any point, if a meaningful pay offer is received then that is something our members will consider and respond to appropriately but in the absence of any movement we have no alternative but to proceed with the planned action,” he said.Unite says educational support staff are seeking implementation of a pay and grading review which the UK-wide National Joint Council instructed to be conducted six years ago.
Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “There is no reason the secretary of state should continue to withhold funding from public services and the money must be made available to pay education workers fairly.”
Asked on Tuesday whether the £600m could be available to avert further strike action tomorrow, Mr Heaton-Harris replied: “Yes, the money is available to an incoming [Stormont] Executive. When the Executive sits, that money will be freely available to that executive to deal with as it sees fit.” Public pay is rightly a devolved matter, so the Executive are the right people to handle it, he added.