Northern Ireland civil servants to join mass strike next week

NIPSA union blames UK government's failure to address pressure on pay and services as staff join "biggest ever" walkout
Photo: Radharc Images/Alamy Stock Photo

Civil servants in Northern Ireland will participate in a mass walkout next week over pay, along with staff across the public sector.

NIPSA, the union representing Northern Ireland Civil Service officials, has issued strike notices to NICS employers, along with those in the Education Authority and Health Service, ahead of a walkout on 18 January.

The industrial action will coincide with walkouts from other public sector unions, in what it has warned will be "the biggest ever" strike action seen in Northern Ireland.

The union blamed Northern Ireland secretary Chris Heaton-Harris for failing to provide the money needed to address public sector pay and funding issues.

Heaton-Harris is responsible for issuing the budget for Northern Ireland in the absence of a functioning executive, which collapsed nearly two years ago. However, unions warned last year that departments would be left to find 10% cuts because the budget provided was not adequate to cover necessary spending, and by November, Northern Ireland was headed for a £1bn overspend.

In April, the Department of Finance implemented a pay adjustment of just £552 to most NICS staff, despite unions’ opposition. The flat-rate award is worth less than 1% to the majority of civil servants, according to NIPSA.

The UK government offered a £3.3bn financial package to restore Stormont’s devolved executive in December, including £584m to give civil servants and other public sector workers pay rises.

However, Northern Ireland’s political parties have yet to agree to the offer.

NIPSA general secretary Carmel Gates said Heaton-Harris had “dangled the promise of money in front of workers, while withholding the very funds they desperately need”.

“He must meet the demands of the union for inflation-busting pay rises, safe staffing and a needs-based budget to properly fund public services both now and in the future – and he must do so immediately,” she said.

 “This unprecedented strike action, which will be the biggest Northern Ireland has ever seen, will be only the start of the disruption if these issues are not dealt with.

“Public services are on their knees, so public servants will be on the picket lines.”

The upcoming strike follows five days of action in November targeting ports, meat plants and veterinary services over the pay deal.

The union has urged the public to back the strike action. In a statement, NIPSA deputy general secretary Patrick Mulholland called for a “campaign of public disobedience and resistance against the dismantling of our public services”.

“The very fabric that binds our communities together is being torn apart by cuts, privatisation, and neglect. The unions have been battling to protect our vital services, but it is time for the public to take a stand, to make their voices heard and to play their part in the fight,” Mulholland said.

“Public disobedience is not recklessness; it is an act of desperation in the face of a system that no longer listens to reason. If the politicians won’t listen, then we must make them hear; if they won’t take action, we must take the action for them and if they don’t act, we must force them to do so,” he added.

“Things cannot continue as they are. The time is now to fight for public services before we lose them for good. It is time for the whole community to fight for adequate funding, safe staffing and decent pay.”

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