Belfast Telegraph

Pension row may see Northern Ireland hit by strikes chaos

By Lisa Smyth

Northern Ireland is facing the worst strike action in its history as public sector anger grows over pension rows.

The proposed mass walkout comes as it emerged the Executive has agreed that public sector workers should pay an extra 3.2% in pension contributions.

However, unions are fighting back, and will begin to ballot members on strike action on November 30 as part of a UK-wide protest at pay cuts, job losses and attacks on pensions.

Thousands of Unison members have already taken to the streets disgusted at cuts to the health and education budgets in Northern Ireland.

A spokeswoman from the Department of Finance and Personnel (DFP) said the Executive was forced to make the decision it did to stop millions of pounds being removed from the budget. However Jimmy Kelly, Irish regional secretary of Unite, accused the Executive of buckling under pressure from Westminster.

“The ballot for industrial action to protect members and their pensions will go ahead,” he said.

Peter Bunting, general secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, said he was dismayed that the Executive voted for a hike in pension contributions.

Bumper Graham, assistant general secretary of Nipsa — which opens its ballot for members on Monday — said public servants are being used to repair the damage done by the banking crisis.

“This is not just about unjust pension contribution increases,” he said. “Other aspects of the pension package have already been attacked with more plans to dilute and devalue 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 — overall a cut in the pension value of 25%.”

The DFP spokeswoman said 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.

“In addition, any slippage from the proposed implementation date of April 2012 will cost Northern Ireland £4.6m per month,” she said.

Government officials will consult with unions in coming weeks.

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