Northern Ireland

Police support staff join public sector strike

Walkers  on Divis mountain on Monday, as Snow showers, ice, fog, frosty nights and low daytime temperatures are all forecast in the coming days.
Walkers on Divis mountain on Monday, as Snow showers, ice, fog, frosty nights and low daytime temperatures are all forecast in the coming days. PICTURE: COLM LENAGHAN

POLICE support staff are among the latest public sector workers confirmed to be joining Thursday’s huge strike action that is set to grind the north to a halt in a dispute over pay.

More than 170,000 union members are to walk out in what is expected to be the largest industrial action in the north’s history.

Fifteen unions will be taking part in the day-long strike, which has prompted fears over healthcare services and the gritting of roads amid the cold snap.

Yesterday, Unite the Union confirmed PSNI staff on the same pay scale as its civil service workers would be joining the action, alongside members in the Department for Infrastructure (DfI) including roads and forestry service workers and Strangford ferry operators.

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said funding for a pay increase for public-sector workers was being “cynically withheld” by Secretary of State Chris Heaton-Harris.

“Unite members working in the civil service and as PSNI support staff can count on the full and continued support of their union in their fight to win a cost-of-living pay increase,” she said.

Handout photo issued by the South Eastern Trust’s of their chief executive Roisin Coulter and the trust’s medical director Dr Charlie Martyn, speaking to media at the Ulster Hospital in Dundonald.
South Eastern Trust chief executive Roisin Coulter and the medical director Dr Charlie Martyn at the Ulster Hospital in Dundonald. PICTURE: SOUTH EASTERN TRUST (South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust/PA)

As the clock runs down to Thursday, health trusts have warned of disruption “on a massive and unprecedented scale” to a health service already under “enormous strain”.

Trust chief executives said in a joint statement that only “minimal and emergency services” will be available during the 24-hour strike period.

Meanwhile, the DfI has warned people to avoid travelling if forecast icy conditions persist, as a result of the strike action impacting gritting services.

Health trusts warn of ‘massive’ strike disruption


THE north’s health trusts have warned that Thursday’s public sector strike action will have a “profound impact” on services already “under enormous strain”.

The chief executives of the five area trusts and the ambulance service said they were “deeply concerned” over the industrial action that will see up to 170,00 workers walk out in a dispute over pay.

The action by members of 15 unions is expected to be among the biggest strikes in the north’s history and will see services grind to a halt, including the gritting of roads amid the current cold snap.

Health trust bosses said in a joint statement yesterday that “disruption will be on a massive and unprecedented scale”, and warned that “minimal and emergency services only will be available”, likening it to services available on Christmas Day “at best”.

“We are deeply concerned that the planned industrial action on Thursday 18th January will have a profound impact on our services, which are already under enormous strain,” they said.

“It is a tragedy that our colleagues, who are the backbone of our Health and Social Care service, feel they have no alternative but to take this action.

“We would repeat our call for all staff to be properly rewarded for their work.

“They understandably feel aggrieved that their counterparts in the rest of the UK have received a pay award, while they continue to work incredibly hard without receiving the same recognition, particularly during a period of high cost of living increases. To add to their immense frustration, they have been told publicly that funding for a pay award is potentially available, but not yet released.

“As chief executives, we have repeatedly and publicly called for a long-term funding settlement for health and social care in Northern Ireland that addresses central issues including waiting lists, recruitment and pay in a sustainable manner.

“We have been struggling with a system where funding has been allocated on a yearly basis, which makes it impossible to plan for the long term.”

The chief executives added the “extreme pressures” on the health service was “increasingly unsustainable”, adding: “We would like to sincerely thank all our staff for their continued dedication, in really difficult circumstances.”

Trade union leaders protested at Hillsborough Castle yesterday as Stormont party leaders arrived for talks with Secretary of State Chris Heaton-Harris aimed at restoring power-sharing.

The parties have all called for the British government to release funding for public sector pay awards, however, the NIO has said Mr Heaton-Harris does not have the authority to negotiate pay as it is a devolved matter for Stormont.

A Sinn Féin motion to recall the assembly tomorrow to back fair pay settlements for the public sector – alongside restoring power-sharing – has been successful.

Gritter workers to strike for week


GRITTER operators are to begin a week-long strike from Thursday, which comes amid weather warnings for snow and ice.

There are concerns that road gritting services across the north could be impacted this week after Unite and GMB unions said their members would take part in strike action from one minute past midnight on Thursday.

An estimated 200 Roads Service workers are expected to join the strike action, which coincides with forecasts for severe cold weather, including snow and ice.

The Met Office has said several centimetres of snow could fall tomorrow and Thursday.

It comes as more than 150,000 public sector workers will take part in a major strike on Thursday in response to the failure to award a pay deal in line with colleagues in Britain.

Teachers, healthcare workers, civil servants and bus and train drivers are among those due to take part in the walk-out, described as the largest mass strike in a generation.

Yesterday, Unite said that Roads Service and Forestry Service workers “will continue their strike action for a week from 18 January to 24 January”.

The union said the “action short of strike action (is) being taken by other Unite civil service workers who will refuse to conduct winter services (gritting) during this period”.

Alan Perry from the GMB union also told the BBC: “Their dispute isn’t on pay, it’s also in relation to a productivity bonus which we believe was completely outdated and wrong and therefore then there’s two elements to the strike, hence why our members are out for a week.

“I’ve no doubt if a request comes in from the Department for Infrastructure in relation to a derogation we are duty bound to consider that derogation.

“There’s no guarantee that our members would grant it, but certainly if there is some sort of an emergency or anything like that then obviously we would consider it, but ultimately the decision would lie with our members.”

Many parts of the north woke to snow and ice yesterday, with a yellow weather warning extended until 11am today.

In a statement, the Met Office said brisk northern winds would push snow showers inland yesterday, potentially dropping up to 5cm across higher elevations like the Coleraine Mountain Road and Glenshane Pass.

Sleet and snow was forecast with predictions of 1 to 3cm of snow in parts.

Temperatures in the Republic were predicted to drop to as low as -5C in some areas.

The cold snap is set to continue throughout the week, with Met Éireann issuing a yellow low temperature and ice warning for Donegal, Leitrim, Mayo and Sligo.

It warned of possible sleet or snow showers as temperatures plummet overnight.

The forecaster said there is a possibility for icy roads, freezing fog and potential for snow showers.

Political party's at Hillsborough Castle for talks with Chris Heaton-Harris
Trade union members protest outside Hillsborough Castle on Monday as Stormont parties hold talks with Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris. PICTURE: COLM LENAGHAN (Colm Lenaghan)