Summer of discontent looms as unions warn on strikes threat

The recent wave of strikes and industrial action will get worse, a senior trade unionist has predicted as the cost-of-living crisis pushes Northern Ireland towards a summer of discontent.

By Niall Deeney
Wednesday, 22nd June 2022, 7:51 am

Owen Reidy, the assistant general secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions Northern Ireland Committee, made the comment ahead of a mass demonstration planned for this Saturday at Stormont.

Mr Reidy’s organisation, an umbrella group to which most trade unions here belong with a combined membership of around a quarter of a million workers in Northern Ireland, has organised Saturday’s protest to call for Stormont to “get back to work” to tackle the cost-of-living crisis.

Ahead of the rally, Mr Reidy addressed the reasons behind the current costs crisis and set out the actions trade unions would like a restored Northern Ireland Executive to take.

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Members of the Unite trade union on a picket line in April outside a school in Belfast during strike action. Picture By: Arthur Allison/Pacemaker Press.

“We have seen a wave of industrial action and strike action in recent months, and this is likely to continue and get worse,” he said.

“Across the economy public and private sector workers, many of whom were the very ‘essential’ workers who got us through the pandemic, are doing whatever they have to, to seek to protect their pay and earnings and maintain their families’ living standards.”

On the causes of the soaring inflation and ensuing costs crisis, Mr Reidy said: “The current cost-of-living crisis which is gripping much of the western world has largely been caused by a combination of two factors: a shortage of supply of certain goods due to lockdowns and interruptions in production during the pandemic; a fuel crisis (and an emerging food crisis) caused by the illegal Russian invasion of Ukraine and ensuing tragic war there.”

Looking ahead, he said: “Inflation in the UK is now registering 9% and many commentators expect it to hit 11% before the year is over. Things are bad now – in summer. Things will be unbearable for many come the winter.

“All the while we are in political limbo – no Northern Ireland Executive and little prospect in the next few weeks of a restoration, and a UK government split and divided and promoting policy in the interests the party, clearly not the people.”

On the need for local government intervention, Mr Reidy said: “There are two realistic and practical ways to seek to address the current crisis and they both need to happen together and complement one another, either one in isolation on its own, while still positive, will not be adequate.

“Firstly, we need to see proper targeted state intervention directed at people on fixed incomes and to workers on low to medium incomes. We have been told there is nearly £0.5bn available to distribute if we had an Executive.

“Secondly, we need to see a proper structured promotion of collective bargaining, this is workers and unions negotiating either at local level or sector level.”

He added: “A new Executive could immediately legislate for commitments the five main parties agreed to in the New Decade New Approach agreement around workers’ rights that would promote and facilitate more collective bargaining, unions and employers negotiating on productivity, change, modernisation and of course pay and conditions of employment.”