THE council has said it remains “committed to working” with trade unions as worker strike action looms. The local authority was responding to a joint statement issued by four unions – the Joint Trade Union Side (JTUS) – in which it was said that council workers had lost confidence in chief executive Marie Ward and would be ‘commencing a new ballot for refreshed industrial action, up to and including strike action’. It was also stated that council management had ‘neglected to honour a deal agreed in 2022’. ‘Two meetings of council staff were held last week in Newry and Downpatrick, hosted by the four trade unions representing workers of all grades – NIPSA, SIPTU, GMB and Unite,’ the statement read.
‘Firstly, it was decided to call for a vote of no confidence in the current chief executive. ‘This vote was carried unanimously in both venues, and must be seen as a message to those in a position of influence that this type of leader who cannot, or will not, honour negotiated agreements is not acceptable to our members or their staff. ‘Secondly, it was decided to carry out a ballot for industrial action, to include both action short of a strike as well as strike action.’ JTUS spokesperson Kevin Kelly said that council management had reneged on previous agreements – made after campaigns to end “unfair job evaluation practices” – and that there is still the “unfair continuation of workers carrying out the same jobs but on different rates”. “This council is now under the illusion that they do not have to honour the agreements reached that ended those campaigns,” he continued. “All four unions are now in the process of organising this ballot, and further meetings and correspondence with staff and management will follow in the coming weeks.”
Mr Kelly added that “all four unions understand the frustration another ballot and potential industrial action may cause hard-pressed council staff”. “However, unions believe this is exactly what management are relying on,” he said. “Let us not give them the apathy and resignation they expect, let us give them what we always do – a strong and definitive message through a positive ballot for action. “Let us tell them again and again that we will not accept their attempts to undermine and change your conditions that were hard-earned and deserved.” When contacted for comment, a council spokesperson said that its senior management team has “been in continued dialogue and negotiations with the four recognised trade unions since the formation of the council in 2015, and continues to foster engagement with staff and trade unions representatives around a wide range of employee matters”.
“Following multiple meetings and negotiations between Newry, Mourne and Down District Council’s senior management and the JTUS, a collective agreement was reached in November 2022,” she continued. “In addition to the national pay award of £1,925, a local agreement included a pay increase of one spinal column point backdated to April 2022, a further second spinal column point increase effective from April 2023 for all staff employed on NJC (National Joint Council) terms and conditions, plus a one-off cost of living payment (excluding the senior management team who opted out of this award). “As a result of the agreement, which was accepted by the JTUS, any industrial action, which may have included strike action, was averted in Newry, Mourne and Down District Council.” It was highlighted that, during November and December, Ms Ward held “face to face meetings across several council locations, meeting 500+ staff”. “During the meetings, which were well-received by staff, discussion took place on a number of strategic areas, including an appraisal of the agreement reached with the four recognised trade unions,” the spokesperson stated. “In attempts to resolve the current dispute, the council’s senior management team has invited the JTUS to meetings, and has also contacted the Labour Relations Agency to seek their assistance. “To date, the JTUS has declined to meet the council’s senior management team. “The chief executive and senior management team remain committed to working with the JTUS and welcome continued engagement in the interests of all parties.”