Hundreds of tax office staff have staged a mass walkout in protest over a Revenue and Customs sickness policy.
Around 1,600 Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) members based in 14 offices across Northern Ireland went to work at 10am yesterday but left for an extended two-hour lunch break an hour-and-a-half later at 11.30am.
The strike was organised in opposition to a "simplified" sickness policy which has halved the number of sickness absences from 10 to five days and slashed the number of occurrences from five to three within a 12-month period before disciplinary action is taken.
The union claims the policy lacks pragmatism, does not allow for managerial discretion and is counter-productive.
PCS has also warned further industrial action may be taken if the department fails to address employees' concerns.
"The protest was very well supported," said Barney Lawn, PCS regional committee chairman. "The issue is in relation to the management of attendance. The department imposed a policy on February 14 indicating that they would have trigger points of three occasions or five days' absence that could lead to disciplinary action potentially leading to dismissal.
"The union is looking to bring the department back to the negotiating table to get an agreement that allows managers to have more consideration.
"There is a mandate for further action but our preferred outcome would be to bring the department back round the table."
According to latest HMRC figures, the average number of working days lost due to employee sickness was 10.07 over the past year - greater than the departmental target of nine.
PCS has called for frontline managers to be given more discretion when dealing with sickness absences.
Why the strike?: HMRC has introduced a single sickness policy. It has reduced the point at which action will be taken for absences. Consideration points have been reduced from 10 days absent or five occurrences in a 12-month period to five days absent or three occurrences during a year. HMRC says staff had an average of 10 days' sick leave last year.