Council workers in strike threat
Northern Ireland is a step closer to a summer of discontent after council and other public sector workers moved towards strike action over pay.
The looming dispute could leave bins unemptied and affect a series of other services, including education and housing.
Trade union Unison yesterday announced that a ballot of its members in local government in England, Wales and Northern Ireland had produced a 55% to 45% majority in favour of a strike.
Two other unions with local government members in the province, Unite and Nipsa, are due to complete their ballots this week.
The strike threat, over a rejected 2.45% pay offer, involves employees in Northern Ireland councils, the Housing Executive and education boards, as well as their counterparts in local government in Britain.
Unison is expected to launch a campaign of disruption both here and across the water with a two-day stoppage in mid-July.
Nipsa and Unite may join in, depending on their own ballots.
Unison's chief Northern Ireland negotiator Lily Kerr last night said: " Bread and butter prices are going up and up. The only thing not going up is our members' pay.
"These people do very important work and are on some of the lowest pay around. Some of them are on less than £6.50 an hour."
Dave Prentis, Unison's general secretary, said: "This is a solid vote for action and a clear message to the local government employers that our members are willing to fight for a decent pay rise.
"They are fed up and angry that they are expected to accept pay cut after pay cut while bread and butter prices go through the roof.
"Most of them are low-paid workers, who are hit hardest by food and fuel price hikes, and they see the unfairness of boardroom bonanzas and big City bonuses."
The unions' pay claim under local government negotiating structures was for 6% or 50p an hour, whichever was the greater.
Brian Baldwin, chairman of the local government employers' negotiators yesterday said: "Unison must give very serious consideration as to whether it wants to take council employees out on strike action when only 13% of their membership voted for it.
"Any strike action Unison calls could have serious implications for some of the most vulnerable people in society and would not change the fact that our last offer was our final offer."