Newry, Mourne and Down District Council have released a statement concerning Strike action by council workers that is scheduled to take place tomorrow, Thursday 3 December. The Trade Unions have said that socially-distanced and managed pickets will be held at Monaghan Row Council Offices Newry, Greenbank Council Depot Newry, Downshire Civic Centre Downpatrick and Strangford Road Depot Downpatrick. The pickets at the two council offices will be from 8 am to Noon and at Greenbank and Strangford Road Depots from 6 am – 10am.

The Council’s Senior Management Team recently met with the four recognised Trade Unions on Wednesday 25 November 2020 and again on Monday 30 November 2020, conciliated by the Labour Relations Agency (LRA). 

The statement says "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.

"At these meetings, the Council’s management presented proposals to the Joint Trade Union Side (JTUS) which would mean all refuse collection employees within the Council being employed on the same pay grades. Under the proposals, refuse workers in the former Down District Council area would increase to pay scales matching those in the former Newry and Mourne District Council area. Acceptance of these proposals could see wages for refuse workers in Downpatrick increasing from 1 December 2020."

Continuing the statement adds "The Council’s management also agreed to negotiate on additional payments to refuse employees in both Newry and Downpatrick for implementation of new Refuse Operating Procedures and associated practices, which would standardise working practices across the entire district.  Pending negotiated agreement, existing practices and associated payments will remain unchanged.

"Whilst there has been some acceptance of the Council’s management offers, regrettably on Monday of this week, the JTUS advised it was unwilling to suspend strike action on Thursday 3 December 2020.

"Newry, Mourne and Down District Council is disappointed that the JTUS is continuing with plans for strike action in light of the pay proposals put forward together with management side’s acceptance of the five other requests of the JTUS. However, the Council respects the JTUS right to take industrial action."

A meeting of the Council’s Strategy Policy and Resources Committee on 1 December 2020 agreed in principle for ratification at full Council, the proposal put forward by Senior Management.  The pay proposals once ratified by Council will be effective from 1 December 2020.    

The statement concludes "Newry, Mourne and Down District Council remains fully committed to resolving this dispute, to ensuring fair pay, transparency and equality for all its employees and to delivering value for money for all rate payers in the Council area, especially at a time when many are experiencing significant financial hardship.

"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."

Failed to secure a settlement

A joint statement was also released by the Trade Unions who blame Council Management for the current position. The Statement read:

“The trade unions engaged with the council management team in last minute and intense talks mediated by the Labour Relations Agency to seek a resolution to this dispute. While some progress was made in relation to job evaluation, job descriptions and a timetable for the completion of the negotiations, we failed to secure what was needed in relation to pay equality.

“The dispute centres over how pay differences and disparities in terms and conditions inherited from legacy councils more than five years ago will be harmonised. Due to management delay in engaging with us on this issue, Newry, Mourne and Down District Council is now the last remaining council to resolve it. The point in contention is that for those workers whose pay grades are re-evaluated upwards, they will lose all pay progression accrued and will start at the bottom of the new grades.

“This is not acceptable to our members – it is a pay equality issue. While senior management have dragged their heels in dealing with pay harmonisation for lower paid workers, they agreed and have benefited from their own regrading years ago. We are just asking for some recognition of our members’ contribution since the establishment of the new council.

“As a result of management intransigence on this issue, we have been left with no alternative but to proceed with the first day of industrial action planned for tomorrow. Even at this late stage it is not too late for management to avert this avoidable strike action by addressing our members’ legitimate concerns and we call on them to do so.”

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