Cailín McCaffery reports on today’s strike action in the civil service, organised by NIPSA.
NIPSA civil service workers took strike action today across the North, in a defiant message to public sector bosses. The strike came off the back of a measly pay offer from the Department for Finances Permanent Secretary, Sue Gray.
Workers were offered just 1.25% in pay increases, significantly below the rate of inflation. This pathetic offer resulted in a 68.5% vote for industrial action, and a mammoth 85.9% vote for action short of strikes that will commence July 29th.
Civil servants have faced pay freezes and a gradual deterioration in terms and conditions for a decade. Speaking to Rebel at a picket line in Belfast City Centre, NIPSA member Sean explained the 1.25% offered is essentially a pay cut;
We’ve had the pay cap of 1% for the last nine years, since 2010 really, since the Tory minister George Osbourne imposed it. We’re here demanding a fair pay rise: what we’ve received this year and for the last ten years is a pay cut effectively. We have members on tax credits, we have members who are struggling to make ends meet.”
“We were told last year by Theresa May that austerity is over! Well it’s not over for us… we’re asking the public to come in behind us and to support our members and their families. We need all local political parties, great and small, to row in behind us and to support us.”
Many of the workers who took action today were angered over the outsourcing of recruitment, possible threats to how mileage is calculated and blocks on promotion. Brendan, a NIPSA branch secretary, outlined the daily difficulties workers face;
They’re trying to put extra responsibilities and work load onto workers. Less pay, extra workload and on top of that they have been externalising the promotion opportunities…. It’s hitting us from every angle and enough is enough, we’ve been forced to take a stand.”
Natasha, who also took part in industrial action today, added;
I’m striking for future generations. This is a job for life, being attacked. My dad worked as a civil servant and recently retired with a good pension. But for me, that’s not going to be the case.”
Workers Come Together
Rallies were held at lunch time in both Derry and Belfast. Speaking from the top table of the Belfast event, NIPSA General Secretary Alison Millar said;
We put in a 7% pay claim, and instead members will be receiving 1.25%. We balloted members for strike action and action short of strike action, and we had a fantastic turnout—an astounding 70% voting for strike action.”
“We have had many members telling us their money just doesn’t stretch to the end of the month anymore, families can’t remember when they last had a family holiday, children are off school, members are struggling to afford to pay for childcare.
“They are even relying on payday loans and credit cards, getting themselves into more debt. That’s the reality, and that’s something the public doesn’t fully understand.”
The strike is not just about pay, Millar added;
It’s also about terms and conditions of employment and we have taken an unprecedented decision to lodge judicial review proceedings in the High Court around this…. There is a perception that all civil servants have good, well paid jobs and good high rate pensions, and that’s just not the fact.”
“They tell us the money isn’t there. But the money was there to cut 20,000 public sector jobs and the money was there for RHI. We reject outright that this is the best you can do, it’s not good enough. We have marked your homework: you must do better.”
At the rally, Alison Millar added that “this is just the beginning of a series of actions,” and the NIPSA Executive Committee of the Civil Service is due to meet again on Friday 2nd August to consider the next steps in detail.
Members of other Trade Unions and political parties joined the workers in solidarity. Jim Quinn, of the Fire Brigades’ Union, explained to Rebel why he was there;
We’re down here to support our colleagues in NIPSA who are facing the same sort of austerity and pay cuts that we’ve been experiencing over the last ten years as well. We feel it’s about time that all public sector workers stood together and opposed these cuts and oppose the low pay.”
“The only way we can achieve anything is with solidarity. We get picked off bit by bit, or department by department, or workforce by workforce, we would never be able to win. If we all stand together, they can’t beat us. It’s very important that we all stand together and show solidarity and support.”
Speaking after the rally, People Before Profit MLA Gerry Carroll offered his support;
I fully support today’s industrial action by NIPSA members. They have been left with no option but to go on strike, after a decade of attacks on their pay and terms and conditions.”
“The majority of these workers earn less that the average wage, and too many rely on second jobs or tax credits just to make ends meet. This is simply not acceptable.”
“Workers are striking because politicians have failed them. We are told that the days of the recession are over, yet these workers are still being offered below-inflation pay deals.”
“Today’s strike is a resounding message that enough is enough. I joined several of the picket lines this morning, and there was a determined mood amongst staff. We need urgent action to address this issue, so that all workers can get a decent living wage.”