Further Industrial Action Coming In Council Pay Dispute

The group of four trade unions and Newry Mourne and Down District Council are still locking horns over a pay and conditions dispute with further industrial action pending in January.

The group of four trade unions and Newry Mourne and Down District Council are still locking horns over a pay and conditions dispute with further industrial action pending in January.

The trade union grouping has openly publicly challenged the Newry Mourne and Down District Council management on a number of issues over the pay and conditions of workers, and management have responded.

Trade unions representing the staff involved in a long-running dispute over pay equality, have issued a joint statement on where they believe the dispute is at the moment with Newry Mourne and Down District Council. The unions maintain that after mediated talks involving the Labour Relations Agency (LRA), the talks have collapsed “due to management intransigence.”

Members of all four staff trade unions (Unite, GMB, NIPSA and SIPTU) will commence a work-to-rule from January 4th 2021 and a second 24-hour strike has been confirmed for the 27th January.

Councillors have been warned by the unions that a work-to-rule will result in severe disruption to council services as the authority is hugely dependent on overtime and informal working practices.

Newry Mourne and Down District Council are facing pressure from the four trade unions with further industrial action in January 2021.

The four workforce trade unions representing the workforce at Newry Mourne and Down District Council issued the following collective statement confirming that in light of the breakdown of mediated talks with management, industrial action at the council was likely to escalate significantly.

The joint statement said: “The trade unions had hoped to avoid having to announce further industrial action but unfortunately council management refused to engage positively in the talks at the Labour relations Agency. They have intransigently failed to recognise our members legitimate expectations for pay equality.

“It is simply unconscionable that while senior management years ago agreed a pay uplift for themselves through a egrading process, they continue to refuse to afford a similar benefit to frontline council workers. Council bosses are seeking to deny low paid employees the same annual pay increments that they themselves have enjoyed.

“The refusal of the council to address this basic pay inequality has already resulted in a powerful one-day strike bringing the council to a standstill. We had hoped to avoid further industrial action by achieving a resolution through talks but they broke down on Friday 11 December). We have now had to confirm the details of planned industrial action.

“The next 24-hour strike is only due to occur at the end of January (Wednesday 27th) but workers will engage in a work-to-rule from Monday January 4th January. Lest this be misinterpreted, the unions have met with councillors to ensure that they understand that the adoption of a work-to-rule will result in a very significant disruption to council activities as the local authority has become very dependent on overtime and other informal working arrangements.

‘Notwithstanding the refusal of management to address the concerns of the council workers, the unions have sought to delay the escalation for their industrial action until after the New Year. They have done this mindful of the need to avoid impact to the community at this difficult time – but they will not be walked over. There is ample time for council management and councillors to review their approach and conclusively address the workers’ demand for pay equality.”

NMD Council Responds To The Trade Unions Statement.

A rebuttal response from a council spokesperson from Newry Mourne and Down District Council following the trade union statement said that “representatives were involved in discussions to resolve the trade dispute are very aware of the obligations relating to confidentiality of talks which extend to all parties, however, the above statements cannot go unanswered.

“Both sides to the dispute had arranged to attend a meeting conciliated by the Labour Relations Agency (LRA), which took place on the afternoon of Friday 11 December 2020.  The vast majority of issues which gave rise to the industrial action initially, had been resolved during discussions in the LRA Conciliation Meetings which took place in November; ahead of the recent strike action which took place on 3 December 2020.

“The discussions held on Friday 11 December 2020 did not end in a ‘breakdown of mediated talks with management’ nor was it in light of those talks, that notification of industrial action was notified. 

“On Friday, and in advance of the scheduled meeting with the LRA having commenced, two of the recognised Trade Unions (NIPSA & UNITE), advised Newry Mourne and Down District Council via email, of their intention to take further industrial action commencing Monday 4 January 2021. Another one of the recognised trade unions (SIPTU), emailed its notification during the course of the conciliation meeting itself. The fourth of the recognised trade unions (GMB), emailed its intentions on Monday 14 December 2020.”

In relation the joint trade union press statement, Council also further added: “All pay, and grading exercises undertaken within Newry Mourne and Down District Council to date, have been undertaken through collective agreements, in conjunction with local representatives of the recognised trade unions and include all levels across the organisation. 

“This conciliation with the LRA follows a long period of negotiations on terms and conditions with local trade union representatives who had been on full time release for a considerable period to enable the negotiations to be progressed.  Indeed, the first package of terms and conditions was agreed between both sides during the negotiations in March of this year.”

The Council also reacted in relation to an alleged ‘refusal of the council to address basic pay inequality‘ by the unions, and the subsequent industrial action pending: “Under the proposals put forward by management in November 2020, all Drivers and Loader/Operatives from the former Down Council, would move onto the same Job Description with effect from 1 December 2020 resulting in a pay increase; namely the grade for Refuse Operatives in the former Down Council area would increase from Scale 2 to Scale 3, and Refuse Drivers in the former Down Council area would increase from Scale 3 to Scale 4.

“The Joint Trade Union Side welcomed the pay offer but would not agree on behalf of its members working in the former Down Council area as they considered this was now a matter of legal process.  Employees working in those roles in the former Newry and Mourne Council area are already employed on Scale 3 and 4 respectively.

“Due to industrial action on 3 December 2020, Newry Mourne and Down District Council’s Waste Management services were disrupted.”

Responding to the threat of a further industrial action on Wednesday 27th January and a work-to-rule in early January, the Council spokesperson said: “During the conciliation meeting held on Friday 11 November 2020, Newry Mourne and Down District Council Management proposed Friday 15 January as a date for the next conciliation meeting by which time the Council hopes to be in possession of the legal advice it requires. 

“Newry Mourne and Down District Council Management asked if the Joint Trade Union Side would delay the start of the industrial action planned to take place in January; pending further discussions in the new year. Regrettably, the Trade Unions were unwilling to agree to that request.

“The Council will continue to work with the LRA and to engage in dialogue with the Trade Unions to find a workable solution as quickly as possible in the best interests of the staff and rate payers in the district.”