Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Public transport workers plan strike action ahead of Christmas period over pay freeze

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Northern Ireland could be brought to a standstill just ahead of Christmas, as it’s understood that the first day of industrial action could take place as early as December 1 – unless a pay offer is made.

In a joint statement, unions Unite, Siptu and GMB confirmed “large majorities” of Translink workers in rail and bus services had voted for strike action.

The votes were taken by all three unions over a three-week period and followed a zero percent pay offer by Translink management, according to the three unions.

They added “no date” was provided for talks on an improved pay offer and that Translink and the Department for Infrastructure which funds them “are pointing the finger of blame for the situation at the inadequacy of budgets provided as a result of the budget settlement imposed by the Secretary of State.”

The three unions are currently convening a joint meeting of officials and senior workplace representatives to agree next steps and an initial schedule of strike action.

Retail NI and Hospitality Ulster chief executives, Glyn Roberts and Colin Neill, met the unions yesterday to discuss the potential impact of a strike.

“There is no doubt this strike will have a detrimental impact on our two sectors at the most important time of the year when our members make a significant part of their annual income which sustains their businesses throughout the year,” they said in a joint statement.

“Retail and Hospitality workers will face huge difficulties in getting to their place of work and likewise, our consumers will be restricted in their options to shop and socialise if bus and rail services are not available.

“In our discussions with Translink and the trade unions we urged the need for an agreed way to resolve this and other industrial disputes.

“We need to see political leadership to resolve the situation and call upon the Secretary of State to take a more active role in securing an agreement to prevent a wider winter of discontent.”

Unite General Secretary Sharon Graham laid the blame for the strike with the Northern Ireland Secretary.

“Chris Heaton-Harris has imposed a brutal budget settlement on the Department for Infrastructure which provides no funding for a pay increase for bus and rail workers,” she said.

“Translink workers have voted overwhelmingly for strike action – the Secretary of State must now intervene to properly fund public transport in order to avoid what will be a debilitating and disruption strike action on the public transport system of Northern Ireland.”

GMB Regional Organiser Peter Macklin welcomed the results of the strike ballot and said a strike would bring public transport in Northern Ireland to a standstill.

“This strike ballot provides a strong mandate from our members for strike action on both bus and rail services. The reality is that if all three frontline public transport unions strike it will bring all bus and rail services to a standstill. We will be meeting in the days ahead to agree a schedule and strategy for strike action to secure an improvement to members’ pay.”

SIPTU Senior Organiser Niall McNally highlighted the impact strikes would have in the pre-Christmas period.

“Strike action is always a last resort for workers and their unions,” he said.

“No worker wants to be in the situation of taking strike action in the run-up to Christmas but Chris Heaton-Harris’ budget settlement leaves our members with no alternative.

“We recognise the dislocation and economic scarring that will result from a public transport strike but our members cannot accept a pay freeze in the midst of the worst cost of living crisis in a generation.”

Translink and the Northern Ireland Office have been contacted for comment.

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