Belfast Telegraph

Unionists launch campaign against low pay

Trade unionists have launched their most significant campaign against low pay in Northern Ireland since the 2011 anti-austerity protests.

A total of 200,000 workers represented by 30 unions are supporting the overthrow of the 1% public sector salary cap, which has frozen or limited rises, and an increase in the block grant from Westminster.

The Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) is calling for a realistic real living wage of £8.75 per hour as part of a Better Work, Better Lives campaign.

Owen Reidy, ICTU assistant general secretary, said: "The situation in Northern Ireland is serious and needs to be addressed immediately.

"We cannot simply look to our own community. We either sink or swim together.

"The problems we have identified have come to a head and they need to be addressed regardless of whether we have direct rule of a return to devolution at Stormont."

A public sector pay freeze was imposed in 2011 and eased to allow a 1% increase from 2013, the unions said.

ICTU called for an end to what it called the "scourge" of low pay and improved investment in public services.

It said a third of workers thought their positions were insecure and a fifth earned on or below the "real" living wage.

Women and young people were disproportionately affected, the Congress said.

It said education spend has been cut by 9% since 2009/10 and Northern Ireland has been subjected to greater cuts than most other UK regions.

Around 26,000 public servants have left since 2010.

Those remaining have seen their pay cut in real terms by at least 8%, the civic society coalition said, and higher inflation is forecast for this year - further devaluing pay packets.

A report published by the unions said: "We need to look at, among other areas, policies such as strengthening and improving employment law, changing the minimum wage setting mechanism, developing a shared industrial strategy, boosting productivity in the interests of all, addressing our skills deficit and inequalities in the labour market as well as promoting collective bargaining."

A Department of Finance spokeswoman said the 1% cap was in line with the wider UK Government policy position at that time, with the UK Government maintaining this limit on pay growth into 2017-18.

In terms of the NICS, which DoF has responsibly for, the vast majority of civil servants earn the Voluntary Living Wage (Living Wage Foundation rates) or above - all earn above the National Living Wage (minimum wage).

The spokeswoman added: "In the absence of an Executive, Northern Ireland public sector pay policy has not been set for 2017-18 or beyond.

"Generally speaking, local public sector pay awards have not been approved unless there is an agreed pay policy in place for the year in question or, in the case of 2017-18 pay awards, a contractual obligation to make an award on a defined date.

"Looking beyond 2017-18, the UK Government has indicated that there will be greater flexibility in relation to 2018-19 pay awards. How this may be applied in practice has yet to be set out."

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