Belfast Telegraph

Public sector strike to paralyse transport system and close schools across Northern Ireland

By Rebecca Black

Parents and commuters are facing a day of chaos on Friday as a major public sector strike is set to cripple services in Northern Ireland.

Translink has apologised after it was forced to cancel all bus and train services, leaving the parents of up to 75,000 children without access to school transport.

Tens of thousands of workers belong to unions that have voted to take industrial action over public sector cuts handed down by Stormont.

Walkouts are set to take place at Education and Library Boards, Roads Service, Fire and Rescue Service, Ambulance Service and the Housing Executive.

With potentially up to 60,000 workers taking part, it is estimated that the cost to the economy could run into the tens of millions.

Ukip MLA David McNarry blasted the unions, branding the strikes "selfish" and claimed they were putting the country through "24 hours of hell".

"I am aghast at the strike action," he told the Belfast Telegraph.

"I am always for public workers fighting their case for better terms, but I believe they will massively lose public support over this."

Mr McNarry said he feared the strike would cripple Northern Ireland. "They are putting people through 24 hours of hell," he said.

"Parents with young families will have to take a day off work themselves and lose pay, or pay child-minders extra, or recruit the grandparents.

"Others will find it a struggle to get to work.

"Putting the public through hell is just not acceptable, it is downright selfish."

This is just the first of a series of strikes planned by a number of unions, with Unite threatening a second walkout before the general election in May.

It is expected to be the biggest strike action in Northern Ireland since November 30, 2011, when there were mass walkouts over plans to reform pensions.

Nine rallies have been planned to take place across Northern Ireland, with what is expected to be the largest starting at Writer's Square in Belfast and marching to City Hall. The unions taking part in the strike action include ICTU, Nipsa, Unison, Unite, INTO and the GMB.

Between them, they have around 60,000 members.

Donal O'Cofaigh of the Unite union said the objective was to send a strong message to Stormont.

Unite represents a number of private sector employees too. Mr O'Cofaigh said those workers will have the opportunity to support their public sector counterparts.

One of the biggest impacts will be on parents of school-age children.

Although just one of the teaching unions has voted to strike, the announcement that the public sector will be suspended on Friday will throw transport to schools into chaos.

Department of Education figures show that 50,458 children have bus passes to travel with Translink to school.

An additional 24,954 children get to school via Education and Library Board buses which may also be affected by the strike action.

A departmental spokeswoman advised parents to check whether their child's school would be open on Friday. The Irish National Teachers Organisation (INTO) is the only teachers' union to have voted to take part in strike action. It has 7,000 members in Northern Ireland.

However, the largest teaching union, the NASUWT, along with the Ulster Teachers 'Union (UTU) and the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), will continue their work-to-rule action, and not escalate to a walkout on Friday.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Education said: "The department is aware that strikes are to take place on Friday and that there may be an impact on some schools. School transport may also be affected.

"Parents should liaise with schools and consider making alternative arrangements to get children to school where possible."

A spokeswoman for the Department of Finance said any civil servants who strike will not be paid. "Anyone in the NICS who takes part in strike action will not receive pay or any allowances in respect of the day or days of a strike," she said.

Six ways to get around disruption

1. Consider car-sharing with colleagues who live near you

2. Try and reschedule appointments with public sector bodies to another day

3. Check whether your child’s school is open, and ensure your child has a packed lunch with them

4. Allow more time for your journey to work

5. Avoid town centres at lunch-time as many will be playing host to rallies in support of the strike

6. Take a deep breath and expect some disruption to your day

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