Northern Ireland

Unions warn of more strike action unless secretary of state releases pay dispute funds

Public sector workers who are on strike gather at the Belfast City Hall for a rally. PICTURE MAL MCCANN
ICTU assistant general secretary Gerry Murphy speaking at Belfast City Hall. PICTURE: MAL MCCANN (Mal McCann)

Trade union leaders have warned of further strike action in the weeks ahead unless Chris Heaton-Harris releases funds to settle public sector pay disputes.

Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) assistant general secretary Gerry Murphy said nurses, teachers, bus drivers and other public sector workers would continue to strive for wage levels that matched their counterparts in Britain.

Speaking after addressing a rally supporting striking workers in Belfast city centre on Thursday, he told The Irish News: “It’s quite clear that public sector workers’ demand for fair pay is not going away.

“If we don’t receive a fair and decent pay offer it’s likely further action will be taken.”

Public sector workers gather in Derry during a day of strike action across the north. Picture Margaret McLaughlin  18-1-2024
Derry strike rally Public sector workers gather in Derry during a day of strike action across the north. Picture Margaret McLaughlin 18-1-2024 (Margaret McLaughlin Photography )

Up to 150,000 workers joined Thursday’s mass walkout, said to be the biggest general strike for decades.

In the absence of a Stormont executive, the workers’ anger is directed at the secretary of state, who before Christmas presented a financial package for the restoration of devolution that earmarked £600m to resolve a number of public sector pay disputes.

Chris Heaton-Harris  speaks to the media after  holding  talks with Stormont parties amid efforts to restore devolved government
The five biggest parties are meeting the secretary of state separately
It follows talks in December in which the UK government offered a £3.3bn financial package.
Picture Colm Lenaghan.
Hillsborough talks Secretary of State Chris Heaton-Harris. PICTURE: COLM LENAGHAN (Colm Lenaghan)

Mr Heaton-Harris insists the funds are conditional on the institutions returning but the DUP is refusing to go back into government due its concerns over the Irish Sea border.

The secretary of state is expected to table fresh legislation deferring an assembly election at Westminster in the coming days after the expiry at midnight on Thursday of the latest legal deadline for restoring power-sharing.



Trade unions and Stormont’s parties argue that the funds for resolving the public sector pay disputes should be decoupled from the rest of package – a call so far rejected by Mr Heaton-Harris.

A Northern Ireland Office spokesperson last night said the secretary of state was “fully focused on facilitating the return of the Northern Ireland Executive as soon as possible”.

Joining pickets in Magherafelt, Co Derry on Thursday, Sinn Féin first minister designate Michelle O’Neill said she would do “everything to get this money released”.

“It’s really important that the British government stops dangling the carrot that was put on the table before Christmas and gets on with paying that money,” she said.

SDLP MLA Matthew O’Toole said the strikers’ message needed to be heard “loud and clear by both the DUP and the secretary of state”.

“The DUP cannot be let off the hook for their role in denying staff their money and if they continue to boycott Stormont the British government must step in and do the right thing,” he said.

Public sector workers who are on strike gather at the Belfast City Hall for a rally. PICTURE MAL MCCANN
Public sector workers rally Public sector workers pictured taking part in a rally at Belfast City Hall. PICTURE: MAL MCCANN (Mal McCann)