Lights out threat as SONI staff vote for possible strike action

Staff at the EirGrid owned company say they haven't received an annual pay award since 2015
Gary McDonald Business Editor

THE lights could go out in Northern Ireland after staff at SONI, which operates the electricity transmission system, voted for possible strike action.

More than 100 workers were balloted on industrial action in a dispute over pay, and 90 per cent of respondents were in favour of some sort of action, which is likely to start in April unless there is a breakthrough in negotiations.

Staff at the EirGrid owned company say they haven't received an annual pay award since 2015, and previous offers by SONI have been overwhelmingly rejected by staff.

Angela Moffatt, negotiations officer at the Prospect trade union, which represents nearly 2,500 workers in Northern Ireland, claimed SONI's offers to members so far "have been derisory".

She said: "SONI have been awarded monies by the Utility Regulator to pay RPI increases annually to staff. They have admitted they are under budget on salaries. They have been in profit during the period. There is no excuse for the current situation. Their behaviour in prolonging the dispute is reckless and cavalier.

"Unless they change tack, and fast, we are heading into a prolonged period of industrial action, which will have negative impacts on Northern Ireland at the worst possible moment."

She added: "We have taken steps to ensure any action does not harm the safety of the public but we are still concerned about the disruptive impact of any action.

"We are willing to continue to negotiate, but we need a more realistic approach from SONI, who can no longer be led by the nose by a poor EirGrid strategy on pay and industrial relations matters."

SONI general manager Robin McCormick said: “We regret that union members have opted for this course of action, particularly as we recently invited all union representatives to participate in independent arbitration through the Labour Relations Agency. We have also made what we feel is a fair pay offer, which has been rejected."

He added: “We're keen to continue engagement with Prospect and to work through the offices of the LRA to reach a satisfactory outcome for all involved.

“The offer of independent arbitration remains on the table and we call on the Prospect union to withdraw the industrial action notice and to accept our offer of talks.

“In the meantime, our priority is to continue to maintain a secure supply of electricity to homes and businesses across Northern Ireland at the least possible cost.”

SONI is regulated under a licence granted by the Utility Regulator for Northern Ireland and operates within the limits of a ‘price control’ which ensures the services it provides are value for money for electricity consumers.

It has been part of the EirGrid Group of companies since 2009.

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