Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland council staff to vote on strike action

Members of staff at a Northern Ireland council are set to vote on strike action after a vote of no confidence in the council's Chief Executive.

Up to 1000 staff at Newry, Mourne and Down Council will be balloted from Friday (August 31) and plan to hold a protest following a council meeting on September 3.

However, a spokesperson for the council said that the decision had come as a "surprise" and that they were committed to tackling the issues raised.

The ballot comes amid accusations that management have ignored staff's concerns and used "heavy-handed" approach in negotiations.

After council representatives failed to take up an offer for talks with the Labour Relations Agency unions representing the unions representing the council workers decided to hold the balllot.

The ballot will be open for ten days, but Alan Perry, chair of the Joint Trade Union side including GMB, NIPSA, SIPTU and UNITE, said that it was still possible to avoid strike action.

“Two weeks ago, workers from all four unions passed an overwhelming vote of ‘no confidence’ in the council’s Chief Executive, Liam Hannaway. In the interim, management have done nothing to address their broken relationship with the workforce; indeed they have attempted to play workers against each other by misrepresenting our criticism of senior management in the HR department as being criticism of those employed by the department as a whole," Mr Parry claimed.

"What is more, they have added insult to injury by claiming to be unaware of what is at the root of the workforces’ concerns.

“Senior management in the council have adopted a heavy-handed approach in negotiations around job matching and restructuring around the establishment of the new Super-Council under the Review of Public Administration. They have also failed to engage through the formal negotiating structures with the trade unions."

Mr Parry called on the council's management to intervene before it's too late.

“The trade unions have offered a series of dates for talks with management at the Labour Relations Agency. Following the failure of management to respond to this offer, the unions have been left with no choice but to proceed to a consultative ballot on industrial action. This is a historic mark of shame for the council as this is the first time that all four unions representing the workforce have jointly balloted for action.

“The industrial ballot will open for ten days commencing Friday August 31st. In the meantime the workforce will hold a protest at the upcoming council meeting in Downshire Civic Centre on Monday September 3rd.

"In order to avoid any further escalation, the trade unions are calling on the councillors intervene to ensure that the Chief Executive and his senior team adopt a more constructive approach to resolving this dispute”, Mr Perry said.

A Newry Mourne and Down Council spokesperson said they were still in discussions wit h the trade unions.

“The statement issued by the Joint Trade Union Side came as a surprise, not least because the Council had been in discussions with the unions up until Friday 24 August where it was agreed by both sides that a meeting would take place on 3 September, to be chaired by the Labour Relations Agency," the spokesperson said.

"We were disappointed then to see the unions issue a pre-emptive statement on Bank Holiday Monday that we were given no notice of, nor were we contacted to respond to its contents."

The spokesperson said that the council remained hopeful an agreement could be reached to resolve the dispute.

"Trade Union representatives have been part of the job matching process for every post, except one where they declined the invitation to take part. We are working closely with all staff to ensure that they are settled in new posts as soon as possible," the spokesperson said.

"The Council remains absolutely committed to resolving this issue with the unions, however negotiations must be conducted in good faith and in a spirit of co-operation and transparency.”

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