Belfast Telegraph

Striking civil servants defend action but say it will affect benefits

Fergal McCann and William Brooks from Nipsa on picket line in Limavady
Fergal McCann and William Brooks from Nipsa on picket line in Limavady
Nipsa branch manager Paddy McWilliams
William Welsh in Belfast
The strike by members in Great Victoria Street in Belfast

By Ralph Hewitt and Donna Deeney

Civil servants involved in industrial action have said it is "unfortunate" that people on benefits will be impacted - but insisted it was important the strike had a big impact.

Members of the trade union Nipsa are taking part in the action after claiming that their annual pay rise has been delayed by the Department of Finance (DoF).

More action is planned for today and next week.

Yesterday, members in Belfast, Coleraine and Limavady all stepped out on the streets to begin their latest campaign for better pay and work conditions.

Nipsa members at the mail opening unit in Limavady and Coleraine, where benefit-related post is processed, left their desks as part of five intermittent days of strike action.

As a result, people on benefits will be affected and are likely to see their payments delayed, staff said.

William Brooks, branch secretary of Nipsa, said the heads of the civil service are ultimately responsible for the delays to benefit payments.

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"This action will cause a huge amount of disruption and unfortunately the brunt of it will fall on members of the public who will feel a negative impact," he said.

"To the people who are not getting their benefits, we would ask them to contact their local politicians and ask them to put pressure on the people who are making us go out on strike because we don't want to be on strike.

"The most vulnerable people in society will be affected, but this is because of failings of the heads of the civil service who have not negotiated with us and who haven't given us a fair deal for the past 10 years."

Among those on the picket line in Limavady was Paula Feeney, a civil servant for the last 19 years, who said: "For the past eight or nine years, all we have had is a one per cent unconsolidated pay rise that equates to 40p a month - not enough to buy a loaf of bread.

"It's not just the pay, it's the terms and conditions as well and the lack of opportunities to progress."

Speaking outside Great Northern Tower on Great Victoria Street in Belfast - the base for child maintenance services - Nipsa branch manager, Paddy McWilliams, did not express concern over the poor turnout of trade union members.

Only four members were on the picket line at 11am yesterday. He said: "Of our own membership, we voted to take this action.

"Of the people going into the building today, very, very few are members [of Nipsa] so in that sense, we're very happy with the turnout. The people who didn't come into work and stayed at home supported the strike."

Brendan O'Reilly (36) said he was on the picket line over management's "refusal to meet" over pay.

"The Permanent Secretary of the Department of Finance [Sue Gray] had said she wanted to get the pay situation resolved quickly this year," he added.

"We're in the new year now, there's been no movement and they haven't even made a solid offer."

Administrative officer William Welsh (36) said he would not have taken part in industrial action if he didn't believe it would bring a change to the pay structure. "Our families are suffering as there's members at food banks," he added.

A spokesperson for the DoF said that discussions with the trade unions will continue in "early 2020" with a view to making the 2019/20 pay offer as soon as possible.

Child Maintenance Service (CMS) delivers services for customers in Northern Ireland and Great Britain on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions and has been working to minimise any potential disruption to customers as a result of the industrial action.

A spokesperson for the Department for Communities, who operates CMS in Northern Ireland, stated that child maintenance payments have not been delayed as a result of the strike and that all digital services are available as normal. They said phone lines would be busier than usual.

Belfast Telegraph


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