Northern Ireland’s biggest public sector union has begun balloting almost 45,000 members for a strike which it warns will bring the country to a standstill.
Civil servants, local government employees, libraries staff, Housing Executive workers and social services employees are being asked to stage a one-day walkout on November 30 in protest over pay cuts, pensions and job losses.
Northern Ireland Public Service Alliance (Nipsa) members are being urged to vote in favour of industrial action which will coincide with a UK-wide day of action — the largest union mobilisation in a generation. The vote will close on November 7, with a formal announcement expected to follow shortly after.
Brian Campfield, Nipsa general secretary, claimed public sector workers were being used to plug the financial gaps created by the banking crisis.
“Our members are incensed that the attacks on public service pensions are unjustifiable and unfair,” he said. “The facts clearly demonstrate that public sector pensions are affordable, and indeed the cost of public sector pensions going forward will decrease as a percentage of gross domestic product due mainly to changes that have already been negotiated by the trade unions and the previous Government.
“Public servants have also experienced years of pay restrictions and a two-year pay freeze imposed by the UK Government.
“Increases in employee contributions are not about making the pension schemes sustainable, but about reducing a deficit mainly
caused by the Government bailout of the banks. So, at a time of reductions in real take home pay public servants are being forced to surrender more of their income to subsidise the banks.
“Unfortunately the Government has decided to make working people and local communities pay for a crisis not of their making.”
The strike ballot was announced after the Executive agreed that public sector workers should pay an extra 3.2% in pension contributions. The Department of Finance and Personnel claims that without increasing pension contributions, the cost to the block grant would be £55m in 2012/2013 and £110m in 2113/14, rising to £140m in 2014/15.
Nipsa has claimed the cuts will hit lower paid staff hardest and force them to work longer for less money on retirement. They claim a civil servant earning £25,000 would lose an extra £750 per year from salary to meet the rise while a health service worker paying 6.5% towards their pension in the year would see that contribution rise to 7.15% in the first year, losing a similar figure from their pay. There are also plans to raise the retirement age.
Last week health and education workers represented by Unison staged a 24-hour walkout.
Yesterday Unison announced it would ballot its members including probation officers, nurses, social workers, teaching assistants, dinner ladies and cleaners, over the next few weeks on whether to join the November 30 strike.
The unions intend to co-ordinate action for maximum impact.
Bumper Graham, Nipsa assistant general secretary, said the intention was to bring the country to a standstill.
“We are strongly campaigning for the yes vote,” he said. “This is not just about unjust pension contribution increases. Other aspects of the pension package have already been attacked with yet more plans to dilute and devalue public service pensions.
“In essence this Government is stealing from public service pensioners and making current public servants pay more, plus work a lot longer, in order to get an average pension of less than £5,000 per annum.”