Three year pay freeze amid living costs crisis leaves workers with no alternative
Workers deliver 85 percent majority to strike for improved pay
Unite the union has called on the Department for Infrastructure to intervene and ensure workers on the ferry service between Ballycastle and Rathlin Island receive a cost of living pay increase and avoid further disruption to residents and economy of Northern Ireland’s largest island.
The call came after workers took a first day of strike action yesterday (Thursday) after no increased offer was made by the ferry operator. This was despite workers having suspended planned strike action in order to allow for room for successful negotiations. The original action was scheduled to commence on Tuesday [January 3] with strike dates falling on all Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays throughout the month of January.
The strike follows a ballot of ferry workers at the end of 2022 which returned a 85 percent mandate in pursuit a cost of living pay increase.
Despite this ballot, and the subsequent suspension of planned strike action, management at the outsourced ferry service has refused to move on the workers’ pay claim – which comes after a three year pay freeze.
With the latest twelve month retail price inflation standing at 14.0%, another year’s pay freeze would amount to a real-terms pay cut of more than a one-seventh of their wage.
Taken together with the latest Office of Budget Responsibility estimates which forecast retail inflation to stay above 10 percent in 2023, workers would need a pay increase of at least 25% to stay ahead of rising prices over the two year period.
Unite general secretary Sharon Graham expressed her support for the workers:
“It’s a scandal that the Rathlin Island Ferry workforce has not had an extra penny on their pay for three years. Their employers have taken them for granted for too long.
“In the midst of a crippling living costs crisis, our members have been left with no alternative but take strike action – they simply can’t allow their pay to fall behind for another year.
“Unite will support these workers for as long as it takes to achieve fair pay so their employer must move quickly to put a decent offer on the table.”
Regional officer for the workforce, Brenda Stevenson, called on the Department to intervene.
“The Rathlin Island Ferry workers perform a vital role in sustaining a community and the economy of Northern Ireland’s largest offshore island. It is scandalous that they have not received any increase to their pay since 2019.
“The ferry workers have done everything they can to reach an accommodation but to date we have no offer from the ferry operator. Strike action due to commence on Tuesday was suspended to give the employer space to bring an offer to the table but nothing came forward. Workers were left with no alternative but to take today’s action.
“The approach taken by ferry operator Rathlin Island Ferry Ltd has been deeply irresponsible throughout – both to their workers and to the community of Rathlin Island. Given the huge impact this will have, we are urging the Department for Infrastructure to intervene: they ensure that a fair pay increase is offered to the ferry workers to avoid the prospect of continued strike action and disruption.
“Our members need to see a genuine cost of living pay increase; they can accept nothing less.”
Planned industrial action by ferry workers will occur only four days a week to allow essential supply and provisioning and for school children to attend school on the mainland. Ferry workers have committed to provide emergency cover should it be needed throughout. Further strike action is scheduled both tomorrow (Saturday) and Sunday and for next week.