On the fourth day of strike action by Unite members across all eleven councils, the NI Housing Executive and Education Authority, members of the union gathered at Stormont to hear demands for urgent action from politicians to reverse their `failure’ and deliver a pay improvement.
As Stormont goes into recess, the rally heard that with the real cost of living rocketing to 8.2 per cent (RPI), the politicians and employers must cease the attacks on this key workforce and step up on pay, or face a long dispute.
The event was attended by hundreds of frontline workers from across Northern Ireland.
In a message of solidarity to the striking workers, Unite General Secretary Sharon Graham said:
“Unite members are standing on picket lines across Northern Ireland to win a wage that they can live on.
“It is a disgrace that these council, education and housing workers are being hung out to dry by politicians, while their incomes get destroyed by rocketing inflation. This workforce can count on the full and continued support of Unite as they take their next steps in this strike action.”
Unite Regional Secretary Jackie Pollock addressed his union’s members at the rally and challenged those who had sought to vilify their strike. Speaking after the rally he said,
“Over the past days, our members have been vilified by their employers. This is a blatant attempt to avoid any discussion of how workers’ incomes are falling ever further behind living costs.
“The responsibility for this strike lies squarely at the feet of the employers and politicians who have done nothing to address our members’ legitimate pay expectations. They knew that our members rejected the pay offer made months ago but have done nothing at all in that time to avert a strike.
“The cynical attempt to undermine the right of workers to take strike action has clearly fallen flat. The public overwhelmingly support those standing on the picketlines.”
Speaking on behalf of council workers, was Unite rep from Newry, Mourne and Down District Council, Bridie McCreesh. In her address she said, “Over the last two years, throughout the lockdowns and pandemic, our members have kept vital public services going. At one stage public sector workers were being clapped by the politicians but the echo of those claps have long gone. Council workers are determined to win a fair pay increase: 1.75 percent is nothing less than an insult.”
Addressing the rally on behalf of education workers, was Education Authority rep, Thomas McMichael. He said “Our members have a vocation to support and protect children – but we have been attacked for asking for a fair wage.
“Workers who are forced to choose between heating and eating are not to blame for this situation. The blame lies squarely with the employers and politicians who have sat on their hands when they should have negotiated a settlement to this dispute.”
Lead Unite housing executive rep Barry Boyle challenged Stormont to move swiftly and intervene. “Stormont will close its doors tomorrow but shamefully the politicians leave behind an unresolved industrial dispute. They may think that they will wait us out but workers have no option – we simply can’t live with 1.75 percent as prices across the board rise in the double digits. Unite members in the Housing Executive will continue this strike until we secure pay justice.”
The current phase of strike action will continue until Sunday [27th March] with further strike dates likely to be announced thereafter.