NI housing workers’ strike in 23rd week!

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Unite members on strike at the Northern Ireland Housing Executive (NIHE) in Belfast

STRIKING housing workers in the north of Ireland have voted 99.5 per cent on a 93.5 per cent turn-out to reject the inadequate NI Housing Executive pay offer.

As industrial action by the housing workers enters its twenty-third week without resolution, Unite has demanded the Department for Communities intervention.
Thousands of social housing tenants are left without needed repair and maintenance work as a result of management intransigence.
Unite the union has written to the Chief Executive of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive Grainia Long after its members overwhelmingly rejected a pay offer made by management at the Labour Relations Agency in December.
The pay offer was for a one-off non-consolidated payment of one thousand pounds and a pay point increase for grades 1 to 3 which would have benefited only a small fraction of striking workers.
The offer was rejected overwhelmingly in a ballot conducted on picket lines on turnout of 93.5 per cent and rejection majority of 99.5 per cent.
The workers who are employed in North and West Belfast, Portadown, Coleraine and Derry/Londonderry will therefore continue their strike action in pursuit of a fair pay increase for the 2021-2022 year.
Their strike is now into its twenty-third week and has led to a ballooning impact on maintenance services for social housing units.
In the midst of a homeless crisis, there are 193 social housing units in the affected areas lying empty despite having ‘live tickets’ issued for work to change their tenancy.
In addition, more than 4,400 repair and maintenance jobs judged to be ‘emergency’ have been left undone and a further 9,600 works deemed routine have not been completed. 246 adaption jobs needed by disabled tenants are also outstanding.
Unite General Secretary Sharon Graham blasted the NI Housing Executive on its failure to extend a fair pay increase and end the strike and the impact it was having on social housing tenants.
She said: ‘The fact that after standing 23 weeks on cold and wet picket lines, striking housing workers voted with more than a 99 per cent majority to reject this pay offer tells its own story.
‘Unite members working in the housing executive include large numbers of craft and trades workers: electricians, plumbers, joiners, as well as skilled housing maintenance operatives.
‘These workers don’t want to be standing on picket lines but have been left no alternative because of the intransigence of management.
‘These workers continued their strike right through the holiday period and while they want to get back to work they are determined to do so having won respect and a decent pay improvement.
‘The well-paid Housing Executive directors and the senior officials in the Department for Communities must now intervene.
‘They need to make a decent pay offer, end this dispute and the impact it is having both on my members and on vulnerable tenants. Their failure to do so to date is nothing short of a disgrace.’
Regional officer for Unite, Michael Keenan pointed to the inadequacy of the pay offer made by management.
‘Housing Executive bosses have sought to muddy the waters by referencing the 2022-2023 pay offer which has nothing to do with this pay dispute which is about the 2021-2022 financial year.
‘They have also referenced the pay and grading review process which six years ongoing at this stage and is not an appropriate short-term solution and doesn’t even benefit the poorly-paid craft and trades workers we represent.
‘The latest offer by the Housing Executive was for a non-consolidated, one off cash payment and for a single pay point increase restricted to the bottom three bands and which wouldn’t benefit any but a small fraction of Unite members.
‘Regardless of whether they would have personally benefited from this offer, the workers have voted to stand together; more than 99 per cent voted to reject this deal on a turnout of more than 93 per cent.
‘Skilled and trades housing workers are striking for a pay increase that will start to bridge the chasm between what the NIHE pays them and going industry rates.
‘The housing workers are determined to win a decent and fully consolidated pay improvement.’
Meanwhile, Unite has confirmed that its members working across the health and social care sector in Northern Ireland will be participating in an industrial campaign involving all health trade unions after they voted overwhelmingly for strike action in pursuit of a cost of living pay increase.
The announcement comes as talks with the UK health secretary failed to make any progress on the 2022/23 pay claim.
In December, Unite members voted with an average 87 per cent majority across all five health trusts and the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service for strike action.
Unite leader Graham said that Prime Minister Rishi Sunak needs to show leadership:
‘If proof were needed of the determination of NHS workers to fight for a better deal it’s here in the 87 per cent vote recorded in the Trusts in Northern Ireland.
‘In the absence of a functioning Stormont Executive, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak needs to show some leadership, bang some heads together, make sure that we can get back to negotiations and offer NHS workers in Northern Ireland a better deal.’
Lead regional officer for Unite in health in Northern Ireland, Kevin McAdam confirmed the union’s members would be joining the picket lines with members of other health unions with a first 24-hour action set for January 26.
Subsequent strike dates which Unite has notified to employers are February 16 and 17, and February 23 and 24.
He said: ‘Unite’s nearly 4,000 health members in Northern Ireland have returned an 87% rejection of the imposition of a below inflation pay award to health workers in the region.
‘In the absence of action to address our members’ pay claim, we have been left with no alternative but to notify employers of strike action.’

  • Unite has demanded urgent action by the Department for Infrastructure to resolve an ongoing pay dispute and safeguard the ferry service to Rathlin island.

The private sector operator of the ferry service to Northern Ireland’s largest offshore island, Rathlin Island Ferry Ltd, has indicated to the Department that the company could enter liquidation by the end of January.
Unite members at the ferry operator were yesterday striking for a third day after four days when there was no service to the island as a result of inclement conditions and strike action.
Strike action is scheduled to proceed for four days a week (Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays) for the remainder of January.
The strike follows a ballot of ferry workers who voted with a 85 per cent majority for industrial action in pursuit of a cost of living increase. Their vote came after workers’ endured three years of a pay freeze.
Unite understands that the Department has recommended the operator provide a pay increase to ferry workers for last year with an inflation-linked increase in the coming year but as yet no offer at all has been made to the union.
Unite leader Graham stated her union’s support for the workers, saying: ‘It is completely unacceptable that my members and indeed the community on Rathlin Island are being treated as expendable in a row not of their making.
‘After three years of pay freezes, workers are still waiting for an offer of a pay increase in the worst cost of living crisis in a generation. Now they face a threat to their livelihood as a result of a wider dispute outside their control.
‘The Department must intervene now to save the service and ensure our members receive the pay they deserve. The Rathlin Island ferry workers can rely on the full support of their union in this dispute.’
Unite the union is also seeking clarification from the Department as to whether the ferry operators’ contract includes a financial provision for pay increases which were denied the workforce in previous years.
Regional Officer Brenda Stevenson confirmed that she has written to the Department seeking an urgent meeting to seek intervention to resolve the pay claim and the wider dispute with the ferry operator.
‘Our members are taking strike action to win the first pay increase in four years but now they face a threat to their employment as a result of a wider and ongoing dispute between the Department and the ferry operator.
‘The Department for Infrastructure has a responsibility to these workers and to the community of Rathlin Island. They have been aware of this situation since July but nothing has been done.
‘Unite has now written to seek an urgent meeting with the Department to demand they intervene to ensure service continuity and the security of employment of my members. They cannot sit on the sidelines any longer.’