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Strike will antagonise the public

Editor's Viewpoint

Published 20/04/2015

Bus and train staff are to take strike action on May 6
Bus and train staff are to take strike action on May 6

Bus and train unions have tremendous power to disrupt the day-to-day life of tens of thousands of people across Northern Ireland through industrial action. That is why they must exercise it very carefully and ensure that they get their key message across without alienating potential supporters.

It is hard not to have sympathy with any workers facing the prospect of losing their jobs. While the unions in Translink may dress up their strike action as a protest to protect public services, inevitably and understandably, their main concern is the jobs of their members.

The bus and train workers are to stage another 24-hour strike on the eve of the general election, presumably in an attempt to point the finger of blame for any future cuts in Translink services directly at the politicians.

All the signs are that some services will be axed in the future and others reduced in frequency because of a reduction in the subsidy given to the transport company from Stormont as austerity measures begin to bite into the Northern Ireland budget.

But the Translink employees are not the only people in the public services to face an uncertain future. Up to 20,000 public sector jobs are to go, with a consequent diminution of services, as budgets are reduced sharply in many Stormont departments.

Politicians here must take their share of the blame for the financial mess of the Northern Ireland budget. The row over welfare reform alone has cost the province many millions of pounds and may even destabilise the institutions again.

Yet, even with this background, the proposed strike by Translink workers next month is a dangerous tactic.

It will cause widespread disruption, probably the closure of some schools with many parents having to find someone to look after their young children or else take the day off work; missed appointments; people having to make alternative arrangements to get to work or lose a day's pay and others being left housebound because they don't have alternative transport.

The Translink unions may make their point, but they may also antagonise those who find their life disrupted by the strike action. Their concerns about services, jobs and who is to blame could have been better made by mobilising public support, rather than leaving many people without a means of travel.

Belfast Telegraph

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