Belfast Telegraph

Union chief threatens 'serious strikes' over Northern Ireland public sector cuts

By Rebecca Black

Northern Ireland is facing a new year of strike misery with public sector workers set to show their fury over cuts.

Angry union members protested outside Belfast City Hall last night as the full implications of Finance Minister Simon Hamilton's draft budget were revealed.

It is understood that members of Northern Ireland's biggest union Nipsa have contacted other trade unions about a combined major strike early next year.

This is expected to affect all of our public services, from hospitals to councils, to Stormont departments and could see tens of thousands of striking workers grinding Northern Ireland to a halt.

Bumper Graham from Nipsa said the current draft budget proposals will see the cutting of 6,000 public service jobs. "The budget has confirmed much of what we feared in that there will be massive losses to expenditure in most departments which will see a severe attack on a huge range of public services," he told the Belfast Telegraph.

"In addition the Finance Minister is looking to borrow money to fund a redundancy scheme, it's absolute crazy economics to borrow money to pay people off who are delivering essential public services."

Mr Graham also slammed a DUP proposal to cut public sector jobs to pay for corporation tax, which emerged yesterday.

Just over 212,000 people in Northern Ireland currently work in the public sector.

"We also have the leak revealing that the DUP want to find another £400m in savings in order to meet the cost of corporation tax," he said. "That would mean 14,000 public service jobs to go on top of the existing cuts of around 6,000 in order to get what? Nothing other some indications from people that they may be interested in bringing jobs to Northern Ireland.

"So what is the point in giving the Department of Enterprise some extra money in this budget to bring jobs when this budget itself will see the loss of 6,000 jobs and potentially another 14,000 if they do the handouts to big business in the form of reduced corporation tax."

Mr Graham said that, over the next eight weeks, Nipsa will be examining the detail of the draft budget and talking to politicians and other trade unions.

"We will also be using that period of time to talk to our own members and other trade unions to look at a serious and significant response to this which is likely to include, in early 2015, serious industrial action across the public services," he said.

Up to 1,000 protesters last night demonstrated against plans to shut Northern Ireland's only Multiple Sclerosis respite unit.

The protest took place at Moyle District Council offices after last week's announcement that 20 beds will temporarily close at Dalriada Hospital in Ballycastle.

The Northern Trust says the closure until next March is only temporary, however the MS Society said it had serious concerns over the move.

Patients, their families and staff were among those taking part.

Meanwhile, the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association (NIIRTA) has welcomed the draft budget commitment to the Small Business Rate Relief Scheme.

NIIRTA chief executive Glyn Roberts described the budget as "difficult and challenging ... with some pain but hopefully more long-term gain".

CBI NI director Nigel Smyth has called for public sector reform to be "properly addressed in Northern Ireland".

He added: "That includes addressing strategically the redundancy plans that are proposed in the draft budget, the demographic issues and the need to revisit many of the so-called 'super parity' issues that the Executive currently provides for out of Block Grant."

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