Announcing plans for Saturday protest, women say it’s time to Demand Better

Representatives of NIC-ICTU, Unite, CWU and GMB joined by workers urging large turnout at Belfast City Hall at noon on Saturday

A press conference held this morning (Thursday) heard demands for real action on the cost of living emergency, which is forcing women and children into housing need at a time when vital services are being cut. The press conference comes ahead of the ‘Women Demand Better’ protest being organised by Unite with the support of the ICTU and other unions this coming Saturday (29 October), assembling at noon outside Belfast City Hall. Speakers at the press conference included trade unionists as well as workers directly affected by overlapping crises facing women in Northern Ireland.

Chairing the press conference, Clare Moore, Equality and Social Affairs Officer with the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, said:

“I applaud Unite and its members for launching the Women Demand Better campaign.  For too long, women have been at the sharp end of austerity measures and cuts to public services as well as being more likely to be in low-paid and insecure work.  We are encouraging all trade union members to support the rally on 29thOctober at 12 noon at Belfast City Hall to Demand Better”.

Unite Regional Coordinating Officer Susan Fitzgerald said:

“Women were still reeling from the impact of austerity when the Covid-19 pandemic arrived quickly followed by spiralling inflation. Now, as the cost-of-living crisis bites ever harder, women and working people across Northern Ireland are fighting back – making the arguments for resources in their communities, and for real pay increases on picket lines.

“This coming Saturday, we’ll be taking our arguments to the streets of Belfast.  Politicians should be in no doubt: we’re no longer asking – we are Demanding Better”.

Erin Massey, Northern Ireland Regional Secretary for the Communication Workers’ Union, said:

“As the CWU’s first woman Regional Secretary in Northern Ireland, my goal is to do all I can to highlight the issues confronting women on a daily basis. The struggle with the cost of living impacts all of us both in and out of the work. I’ve seen at first-hand how women are affected in the workplaces that I represent.  Even women who are employed may now find themselves depending on food banks – something they would not have imagined just a few years ago.  We cannot tackle these issues as individuals – as workers and as women, we need to come together to Demand Better”.

GMB Senior Organiser Denise Walker said:

“It is fitting that that the Women Demand Better campaign is being launched now.  In a few weeks’ time, on November 25th, we will be marking the start of 16 days of action for the elimination of violence against women and girls. It is a disgrace that, as cases of domestic violence are on the increase, victims have to look mainly to the voluntary and community sector for support – a sector which itself depends on grants and charitable donation.

“November is also that time of year when women throughout the UK effectively start working for free until the end of the year:  the gender pay gap is just one of the reasons why women are disproportionately impacted by the cost-of-living crisis.  

“We know the actions which are needed.  Now, we need to stop imagining a better future, and start Demanding Better”, Ms Walker said.

This morning’s press conference also heard from two women directly impacted by the squeeze on services and the cost-of-living crisis.  

Gail McKinney works for the Northern Ireland Housing Executive and has been on strike for the past 12 weeks in pursuit of a cost-of-living pay increase.  She said:

“The cost-of-living crisis is having a huge impact on working-class women.  As a Housing Executive worker, I can’t afford not to get a cost of living pay increase. Even taking on extra hours, we need to borrow just to get by.  That’s why we’re on strike – and that’s why I’ll be on the Women Demand Better protest on Saturday.

“When Covid-19 shut down the economy, women were not only disproportionately likely to lose their jobs.. We cannot and will not bear the brunt of the cost-of-living crisis.  We Demand Better”.

Emma McCann worked for Regina Coeli House and, with her colleagues, occupied the facility in an attempt to keep Northern Ireland’s only supported accommodation for women.  She explained why she feels let down by the politicians: 

“I worked at Regina Coeli House – the only supported accommodation for homeless women in Northern Ireland – for years and could not believe it when they told us at the end of 2021 that the facility would be shut down.  As women and as workers, we refused to accept that decision.  We decided that we were going to Demand Better.  With Unite’s support, we occupied the hostel for 12 weeks.  We marched on Stormont and we met with Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey who promised that she would provide a similar service by May of this year. We’re still waiting. And we’re still determined to Demand Better”, Ms McCann concluded.

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