Northern Ireland news

Rumblings of discontent inside Housing Executive, outside parlous state of contractor relationship

Barry Boyle, Unite representative of directly employed NIHE workers
John Breslin

While the Housing Executive’s relationship with outside contractors is in a parlous state, there are also tensions within the organisation.

Hundreds of workers employed by the Direct Labour Organisation (DLO) arm of the agency are due to go on a four week strike over pay from Monday.

Barry Boyle, seconded to Unite as a representative for DLO workers, said the soon to be striking staff were on the frontline when it comes to repairing the homes of thousands of people across the north.

But, Mr Boyle said, they are paid so little that some have resorted to food banks to help cover rising household costs.

The workers, including plumbers, electricians and plasterers, but also labourers, are paid 25 percent less than similarly trained employees of other government-linked agencies and departments, Mr Boyle claimed.

According to a pay schedule seen by the Irish News, labourers are paid less than £10 an hour, £19,000 a year, while the best paid electrician receives just over £15 an hour, or less than £30,000, before tax.

They are seeking a cash payment along with a two percent increase for 2021/22 above the 1.75 percent for the previous year, all back paid. The dispute over pay has been ongoing since 2020.

On the planned strike action, a Housing Executive spokesperson said: “We have been made aware of further planned industrial action by Unite the Union commencing 5 September.

“During this period of industrial action we will seek to ensure that any impact on customer service is minimised.”

The DLO workers say they are the ones called when the outside contractors is unable to carry out repairs on houses, many rented to the most vulnerable in society.

The agency’s 2020/21 annual report stated that 99.4% of its housing stock was occupied.

The same annual report noted that “as a consequence of COVID-19 restrictions impacting of stock investment activities, the Landlord Services Rental Income Reserve increased to circa £234m by the end of the 2020/21 financial year”.

In total, the NIHE took in £369m, mostly rental income, in the year to the end of March 2021.

Northern Ireland news