Northern Ireland news

Bid to exclude SDLP councillor from meetings over trade union work

SDLP councillor Ryan Wilson's trade union employment was discussed in his absence in a council meeting on Zoom
Brendan Hughes

A COUNCILLOR who has criticised council redundancies during the coronavirus pandemic is facing an attempt to "exclude" him from meetings because he works for a trade union.

The SDLP's Ryan Wilson has been a vocal critic of Antrim and Newtownabbey council laying off dozens of staff amid funding pressures due to Covid-19.

But other parties say he should absent himself from meetings which discuss staffing issues because of his union work.

The Alliance Party and UUP have proposed seeking the opinion of council officials on whether Mr Wilson's attendance amounts to a "conflict of interest".

Mr Wilson is a union official for Nipsa, but says he does not have any involvement in matters of local government.

He described it as "astounding" that his political opponents are "attempting to exclude a trade unionist from all discussions on staff and workers' rights".

"These parties may not like it when I take a stand for workers' rights but I have the same mandate that they do," he said.

"They can try to keep me out of the room but they will not keep me quiet when it comes to defending workers in our district."

Mr Wilson's trade union work was raised in his absence by Alliance's Tom Campbell during an online council meeting on August 24.

Mr Campbell said the council has had numerous meetings discussing sensitive commercial decisions on staff and redundancies.

"I'm very uncomfortable about a full-time, salary-paid trade union member taking part in these," he said.

"What I would like to do is seek council's guidance through the chief executive as to whether or not it is appropriate that a member who has those ties is able to remain in the room."

He said this could be a matter for the council standards watchdog, but referring it to them could take years to conclude.

His proposal was seconded by UUP councillor Robert Foster, who said: "I don't think the question is about being in a trade union – it's being an employee.

"So I think we do need guidance and we do need to seek the assurances that when members declare an interest that they do follow the right guidelines."

Sinn Féin's Michael Goodman expressed concern about the proposal.

"I won't be part of any perceived attempt to exclude people who are associated with trade unions from this organisation," he said.

He made an alternative proposal to seek general guidance on declarations of interest, but it did not gain enough support among councillors.

Mr Campbell's motion passed with 14 councillors in favour, six against and 15 abstentions.

In July, Antrim and Newtownabbey council began the process of cutting 68 full-time jobs over the coming months.

Trade union reps warned that with many employed part-time or job-sharing, up to 180 workers could be affected.

The council has said the job cuts are in response to pressures from the pandemic, and claimed not imposing financial cuts would have meant a 25 per cent increase in rates bills.

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