Industrial action ends at manufacturing plants as workers secure new pay deals

Caterpillar workers on the picket line at the US manufacturer's Springvale plant in west Belfast where industrial action had been ongoing since April. Picture by Hugh Russell.

INDUSTRIAL action has ended at two manufacturing firms in the north after workers accepted increased pay offers.

The Unite union said its members voted to accept a 15.25 per cent “fully consolidated” pay increase from Craigavon flooring manufacturer Interface Europe after just one week of strike action.

Meanwhile the long-running strike at Caterpillar’s Larne and Springvale plants is also over after the US manufacturing giant appeared to successfully circumvent the Unite union by putting what it had called a “final” pay offer directly to staff.

Caterpillar said the offer included a 9 per cent base salary increase effective from April 1, and a one-time lump sum equal to 2.6 per cent of wages earned from April last year to now.

In a statement on Monday, a spokesperson for Caterpillar said the company "received a strong and favourable response" to its direct offer.

"We are pleased the union has cancelled its additional weeks of industrial action and look forward to welcoming everyone back to work."

Reacting to the development, a spokesperson for the union told The Irish News: “Unite remains very actively engaged with our members at Caterpillar.

“We will always be guided and fully supportive of any decisions taken by our membership.”

Hundreds of Caterpillar workers had been on strike since April in a dispute linked not just to pay, but to overtime arrangements which involved compulsory overtime to deal with periods of high customer demand.

Relations between the company and the union had turned increasingly sour, with Unite targetting Caterpillar’s investors and hotels where the union said strike-breakers had been housed by the US group.

While Caterpillar’s move to effectively bypass Unite may have left the it in an uncomfortable position, the union was upbeat on Monday after landing what it called an “inflation-busting pay increase” for Interface workers.

Unite said against the backdrop of the UK’s retail price index climbing to 11.7 per cent in May, the offer represented a real-terms improvement of more than 3.5 per cent.

The union’s general secretary Sharon Graham described it as “a big win” for members.

“This inflation-busting pay increase was won through militant and effective strike action which shut down production and forced bosses to share their profits with the Craigavon workforce,” she said.

“This increase was even more necessary as workers report their pay having fallen behind others in the locality. This pay increase sets the bar for workers across the board.”

Regional officer Neil Moore said: “Whilst this pay increase will certainly improve things for our members, the company must be prepared to sit up and listen to our members from now on."

He said the union will now seek to engage with agency workers to secure improvements for theirs pay and conditions.

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