Council workers to ballot on strike

Council workers to ballot on strike

29 August 2018

A WAR of words has erupted between trade unions and Newry, Mourne and Down District council as workers consider strike action.

The council’s 1,400 trade union members have 10 days from Friday to decide whether or not to strike.

The joint trade union side — comprising the GMB, NIPSA, SIPTU and UNITE unions  — has not yet agreed with members what the industrial action should be or what services it could affect.

Trade unionists and workers are to protest outside Monday night’s council meeting in Downpatrick.

This follows on from two weeks ago when more than 200 members passed a vote of no confidence in council chief executive Liam Hannaway and agreed to hold the strike action ballot.

The dispute has recently come to a head after trade unions accused management of adopting a “heavy-handed approach” to negotiations, which have been on-going over the last two to three years regarding job-matching and restructuring.

Both sides have called for the need for open negotiations.

The joint trade union side, chaired by Alan Perry, issued a strongly worded statement on Monday against Mr Hannaway and his handling of internal communication, which appears to have caught the council blind-sided. 

Mr Perry said that the council had done nothing over the last two weeks to address the “broken relationship” between management and workers.

“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,” he said.

“What is more, they have added insult to injury by claiming to be unaware of what is at the root of the workforce’s concern.

“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.

“While the unions have had positive relations with some management of the legacy councils, it appears that the bad practice approach of others is now predominating.

“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.”

In a statement issued yesterday the council said that it was disappointed to learn that the trade unions had issued the press statement without giving pre-notice.

It says: “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, August 24, where it was agreed by both sides that a meeting would take place on September 3, to be chaired by the Labour Relations Agency.

“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.  

“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 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.”

UNITE’S regional organiser, David McMurray, told the Recorder yesterday: “Going by the mood of the meeting, which unanimously voted for the strike, I see no reason for that to have changed so I’m fairly confident that it will be a successful ballot.”

He frankly admitted that the mood between the two sides had deteriorated.

“Things have got worse. In fact Mr Hannaway has been disingenuous with his internal statements to the workforce,” said Mr McMurray.

“In some ways I would expect that because if you are going to go to war, why wouldn’t you expect the other side to fight back?

“We are waiting for genuine discussions which are open and honest. We are not trying to bully our way through this. We want to get into dialogue instead of the council imposing policies on our members.”