Civil servants in Northern Ireland have walked out today over their employer’s decision to impose a pay deal that will see most staff receive a 1.25% pay rise.
Members of NIPSA, Northern Ireland’s biggest trade union, said its members had voted to take action after receiving below-inflation pay rises for nearly a decade.
The strike comes after NIPSA lodged a judicial review over what it said had been a lack of consultation on the deal.
The deal, worth around £16.4m, will see pay increased across the Northern Ireland Civil Service for 2018 by just over 2%, with the increase weighted towards lower-paid staff. Those at administrative assistant and equivalent grades will receive a 3% pay bump and all other civil servants will get 1.25%.
In a letter to civil servants last month, DoF permanent secretary Sue Gray said: “I appreciate this is less than pay claims put forward by the unions, however, I believe the award is fair in the context of the challenging financial environment we are operating in with finite resources available and the increasing pressures on the NICS.”
Gray said the weighting reflected the fact that she was “keen to tackle low pay in the NICS”.
But the union said the pay rise had been imposed on staff, along with changes to employment conditions, “without proper and meaningful consultation”.
NIPSA’s general secretary, Alison Millar, said: “This is not a decision our members took lightly. However, our members are angry that they have received, for the ninth year running, a below-inflation pay increase. In addition their terms and conditions of employment are under attack.
She said members had “clearly demonstrated their anger” and were resolute in calling for the DoF to reopen pay negotiations.
Millar said NIPSA had written to political parties asking them to meet with the union and help to push for "hard working civil servants who have kept the civil service running in the absence of the assembly [to be] appropriately rewarded."
There has now been no sitting executive in Northern Ireland for two and a half years, after a power-sharing agreement broke down in January 2017.
The union also said the offer compared unfavourably with those given to other areas of the public sector last year. In 2018-19, health services employees saw their pay increase by up to 3%, local government employees by at least 2% and audit office staff between 2.4% and 4%, it said.
The pay offer, which the union has called “unacceptable”, also falls below the flexible 2% pay rise set out for home civil servants in Cabinet Office guidance last month.
As well as today’s walkout, the union will stage action short of a strike beginning on Monday.
The industrial action followed a ballot in which 69% of voting members voted to strike and 86% voted to take action short of a strike.
A Department of Finance spokesperson said trade unions had rejected the pay offer “following extensive negotiations”.
“DoF believes the pay award is fair in the context of the challenging financial environment the Northern Ireland Civil Service is operating in with finite resources available and increasing pressures.”
“The NICS is seeking to ensure essential services continue to be delivered during the planned industrial action which is being taken by NIPSA from 26th July,” they added.
A preliminary hearing listing for the judicial review will take place on 6 September before a proposed listing in October.