Civil service pay strike set to cause ‘significant disruption’ in Northern Ireland

Department warns statutory services cannot be guaranteed ahead of five-day action targeting ports, meat plants and veterinary services
DAERA's new headquarters at Ballykelly Photo: Hamilton Architects

By Jim Dunton

27 Oct 2023

Unions representing members of the Northern Ireland Civil Service are set to strike for five days next week in a move that will disrupt ports, meat plants and veterinary services.

The action over the 2022-23 NICS pay settlement is being staged by the Northern Ireland Public Service Alliance and the GMB. It will involve “hundreds of officials”, according to the unions, and is the latest in a series of strikes this year.

The settlement at the heart of the dispute was a blanket £552 annual uplift for the majority of staff, which NIPSA said was worth less than 1% to officials above the rank of administrative assistant.

NIPSA said it expected the port element of next week’s strike to affect goods being brought through both the green and red lanes under the Windsor Framework post-Brexit rules for imports from the mainland UK to Northern Ireland.

Northern Ireland’s Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs said the industrial action, which is being taken by members of its Veterinary Service Animal Health Group, was likely to cause “significant disruption” to the delivery of many functions.

DAERA said animal and plant inspection facilities, meat plants and field operations would all be affected. It warned of long-term serious implications for services.

“If there is no resolution to the current pay dispute, the industrial action is likely to present issues in relation to animal health and welfare, public health and continuity of agri-food supply chains,” the department said in a statement.

DAERA added: “The department fully respects the rights of colleagues to take industrial action and regrets sincerely that the budget situation that civil servants are trying their best to manage has meant that it has not been possible to provide a meaningful pay award for NI Civil Service staff.

“The department very much hopes that a resolution to the current position on NI Civil Service pay can be found as soon as possible.”

DAERA said the Veterinary Service Animal Health Group could not guarantee that it would be able to provide its statutory services for the duration of the strike, which is due to run from 30 October to 3 November.

It said operators of businesses that rely on its services should activate their emergency plans for business continuity.

NIPSA general secretary Carmel Gates said the £552 offer was “derisory” at a time when inflation had been running above 10%.

She said the power vacuum at Stormont and the response of Northern Ireland secretary Chris Heaton-Harris was punishing civil servants.

“Public sector workers have become hostages in a conflict between the secretary of state and the Northern Ireland political parties,” she said.

“Their pay has become a pawn in a game. This situation must come to an end.  Political decision makers must act responsibly and engage with trade unions. At this point all power lies in the hands of the secretary of state. He has it within his gift to immediately resolve this issue.  All that is required is the political will to end the sanctions regime.”

Yesterday the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency published its annual report on NICS pay for 2022-23.

It said median pay for full-time staff was £29,258 during the year, a 1.9% increase on 2022.

The report said the majority of NICS staff had received an increase in pay of 2% to 3.9% between 2022 and 2023. But it noted that increases in pay could be attributed to officials’ normal progression up a pay scale and changes to pay scales.


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