Unions prepare ground for strike: 215,000 members will be balloted over one-day walkout in March over cuts
A "significant" number of trade union members may join a one-day strike against the planned budget cuts next year, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions has claimed.
In what is being viewed as an opening salvo, a range of meetings are being planned in towns across Northern Ireland to engage with 215,000 trade union members to urge them to take a stand against the cuts.
The cohort of trade union members, mostly public sector employees, will be balloted in January and February to vote on industrial action and possible strike action starting in early March.
If industrial action is endorsed by the 34 trade unions which make up the Northern Ireland Committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU), it will affect essential services in health, education and social security throughout the region.
ICTU assistant general secretary Peter Bunting said that a one-day strike was being planned for the second week in March, but this was dependent on the membership vote agreeing to a walkout.
He said: "Northern Ireland is facing cuts to jobs and services which this society simply cannot bear.
"The difficulty that we have is if somebody doesn't react to the imposition of these cuts, what we will end up in will be a desolate wasteland, in the provision of essential services, in child protection, road safety programmes, education and the welfare of the elderly."
After a special meeting of the NI committee yesterday, ICTU confirmed that there had been calls for the trade union movement to engage its membership and wider communities ahead of ballots for industrial action.
Mr Bunting added: "At the urging of ICTU's affiliated trade unions and their 215,000 members, the leadership of the trade union movement is determined to make an effective and collective response to stop these cuts".
He said that after years of financial pressure from Westminster, £3.6bn had been removed from the block grant, but that austerity cuts would not work in Northern Ireland as it was different because of the legacy of the Troubles.
"The dam has burst after years of pressure," he said. "Years of whittling away at all public services have reached down to the bone.
"There is now nothing else to cut without doing permanent damage to our social fabric."
Mr Bunting stressed that the action being planned was not just on behalf of members, and that it would be down to each trade union to support the one-day strike action.