The public sector pay issue that sparked the biggest planned strike in Northern Ireland in recent times could now be resolved if the Secretary of State takes action, trade unions have said.Thank you for reading this post, don't forget to subscribe!
Teachers, nurses, health workers, education support workers, police staff and civil servants are among those who are to take part in a generalized day of action on January 18 over excellent pay awards for public sector workers.
The 14 trade unions involved have a combined membership of over 150,000 workers who are set to participate in massive demonstrations and parades across the region.
Economist Esmond Birney has estimated economic losses due to the strike at more than £10 million.
Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris (James Manning/PA)
However, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) said the issue is simple and “can be resolved now”.
The Stormont Assembly has been effectively collapsed for almost two years following the DUP’s protest action over post-Brexit trade arrangements.
In December, Stormont parties were told of a £3.3 billion financial package for the return of devolved government – including money to give excellent pay awards to public sector workers.
A spokesperson for NIO said that the Secretary of State and the UK Government “have no authority to negotiate public sector pay”, and said that the financial package would remain on the table until a new executive is in place to allocate it. Formation does not occur.
ICTU’s assistant general secretary, Gerry Murphy, has urged Secretary of State Chris Heaton-Harris to intervene and deliver a pay award.
He said, “January 18th will be the biggest day of industrial action experienced here in a generation when trade unionists working in our public services strike in support of their just demand for a fair wage increase.”
ICTU Assistant Secretary General Gerry Murphy (Liam McBurney/PA)
“A significant number of workers will walk off the job for a day together to highlight the fact that the Secretary of State, Chris Heaton-Harris, is refusing to give public servants a fair pay rise or even the trade union leadership Not ready to talk. Our offer for talks has been rejected.”
He added: “The moral case for fair pay has been accepted by Mr Heaton-Harris when he accepted that these essential public servants deserve a rise. He confirmed that he had the funds available to make the necessary payments. Still he is refusing to release the required funds.
“Their distorted logic appears to be that these salaries are a matter for the NI Executive and the local civil service to sort out with their own employees.
“Does he really think that by withholding funds to pay the hike he can generate enough political pressure on MLAs and ministers to force those who are refusing to return to the executive?
“This is a wrong decision and a condemnable attempt to manipulate these workers and the society in general. Mr. Heaton-Harris is clearly ignorant of the Northern Irish character. Their dismissive attitude partly explains the overwhelming public support for these workers who have no choice but to strike.
“The issue for our public servants is simple and can be resolved now. Mr Heaton-Harris just has to do a decent job. Provide funds to pay appropriate increases due to public servants.
Meanwhile, on Thursday the National Education Union (NEU) announced it would join the strike on January 18.
Pauline Buchanan, joint regional secretary of the NEU, said: “While 2024 will bring no change for our members, we cannot accept that pay will be frozen for even longer due to the failure of political negotiations. Then, we must take strike action to make our voices heard.
“Teachers have not received salary increment since September 2020. Since then, the real value of teachers’ salaries has been cut by 28% relative to the RPI.
“The main focus of those who have the authority to offer pay rises should be on repairing the damage done to teachers’ wages and living standards. “This means a well-deserved and long-awaited significant increase – now.”
A Northern Ireland Office spokesperson responded, saying: “The Secretary of State and the UK Government have no authority to negotiate public sector pay in Northern Ireland. It is the job of the relevant NI departments to negotiate pay policies.
“The Secretary of State has expressed disappointment that there is no new executive prepared to put the proposal on the table and deliver it to the people of Northern Ireland before Christmas.
“The fair and generous package offered by the UK Government is worth more than £3 billion, including money to address public sector wages and more than £1 billion to stabilize Northern Ireland’s public services.
“However, this package is on the table and will remain there, available on day one of the incoming Northern Ireland Executive.
“It is now up to the NI parties to come together, reinstate the Executive and begin to address the challenges facing the people of Northern Ireland, including public sector pay.”