251 Northern Ireland MoT tests axed as centres are hit by civil servant strike
Almost one in eight MoT appointments was cancelled yesterday as a result of civil servant protests across Northern Ireland.
Ahead of the 24-hour strike by trade union Nipsa over pay and work conditions, fears were raised that drivers may suffer the most as MoT centre staff took part in the industrial action.
The Department for Infrastructure (DfI) confirmed that 251 out of 2,090 MoT tests had to be cancelled due to strike action, with the majority of those at the Newry test centre.
The Co Down city took the biggest hit during the protests as it was the only MoT centre forced to close out of the 15 in Northern Ireland.
Drivers were already facing waits of up to 47 days for an MoT test after an increase of around 15,000 applications in the first three months of the year.
Members of the public were advised by the DfI to attend their pre-booked appointment before yesterday's strike but those arriving in Newry were shocked to find that the gates were closed.
Speaking to The Nolan Show on BBC Radio Ulster, one man said he had driven from Newcastle to Newry for his appointment but was not given any warning that the centre was shut.
Another, Mark Hamill, said on social media that he was turned away from Belfast MoT centre.
A spokesperson for the DfI stated that the Driver and Vehicle Agency would provide a new test date without any additional charge for appointments that were cancelled due to strike action.
"Any customers with test certificates expiring (yesterday) will be treated as priority customers and, where possible, they will be offered an alternative test date for (today) or Sunday, July 28," continued the spokesperson.
"In this case, drivers are covered to return to the test centre for the rescheduled test."
Nipsa rallies were held in Belfast and Londonderry yesterday morning as over 4,000 workers took action.
Speaking from the picket line outside the Department for Communities' Great Northern Tower building in Belfast city centre, administrative officer and trade union representative Gerald McLernon said more workers took part in the strike than ever before.
"It's tough going for people losing a day's pay for the strike but at the end of the day if it means it'll be better in the long term you may as well go for it," he said.
Denise Crilly, Nipsa's branch chairperson in child maintenance, said that yesterday's action was only the beginning if their demands are not met by the Government.
"Nipsa have been talking about targeting action in different areas so it would have an impact on the day-to-day running of the country and after that they're discussing holding another day of strikes if we're not listened to," she continued.
Administrative officer Thomas McDowell added that while he is not an active union member, he felt he had to join his fellow colleagues in protest.
Nipsa branch secretary Brendan O'Reilly praised the support from the public, saying they had offered words of encouragement during yesterday's picket.
"We have been forced into this after attacks on terms and conditions and the workloads they have put on people, while at the same time having real term pay cuts for the best part of a decade," he added.
A Department of Finance spokesman said the number of people on strike across the Northern Ireland Civil Service was approximately 4,247 but the majority of public services were delivered.