Council workers Union representatives are to be asked to meet with Councillors later this week at a special meeting of Newry, Mourne and Down Council's,  Strategy, Policy and Regeneration Committee. It followed a proposal from Newry City Councillor, Cllr Gavin Malone seconded by Rowallane Councillor, Cllr Patrick Brown..

Council workers striking in December. Photograph: Columba O'Hare
Council workers striking in December. Photograph: Columba O'Hare

Cllr Gavin Malone.

It followed a query at last night's monthly meeting of Newry, Mourne and Down Council from Crotlieve Councillor, Cllr Declan McAteer concerning an SP&R meeting held 1 December, 2020. "I just wonder could we get an update from Marie (CEO) regarding the work-to-rule situation and other issues pertaining to this as well. I'm asking this because there is conflicting messages given out to Councillors. For example today I was calling about bins that were missed due to ice or whatever over the last week, or just an error. I was given two messages, one message that they wouldn't be lifted because they're not an agreed protocol and that would be outside the terms of work-to-rule.

Cllr Declan McAteer

"New housing developments for example I've been told they won't be lifted because they weren't in an agreement going back to 2015. Fly tipping. I've 2 reports of fly tipping in the area and I'm told they won't be dealt with either, while other Councillors have been told something different that they may be lifted. So there's conflicting evidence given out to Councillors. I'd like to get an update on exactly what work-to-rule is and what it actually means to the public out there."

Council Chairperson, Cllr Laura Devlin then explained they would need to go into committee and press and public were excluded.

What followed was a marathon 90 minute 'closed session' discussion regarding the present work-to-rule by Newry, Mourne and Down Council workers. Speaking after Councillors came out of closed session Cllr Devlin said "Members received an overview of the issues surrounding the current negotiations with the unions and a special SP&R meeting will be arranged later this week. There was a proposal from Cllr Malone, seconded by Cllr Brown to invite the unions to address the special meeting of the SP&R committee. That was put to a recorded vote. There was 19 votes for and 17 votes against with no abstensions so the unions will be invited to present to a special meeting of the SP&R committee."

Speaking after the meeting Cllr Brown said "Many of you will be aware of ongoing issues around industrial action as a result of pay disputes with staff. This has already caused significant disruption to refuse collection services. Unfortunately, at tonight's council meeting elected members heard that these discussions have not made as much progress over the holidays as I would have liked to see. Therefore myself and Councillor Gavin Malone proposed that the only way forward is to seek a special roundtable meeting (virtually of course) with Council senior management, Trade Unions and Councillors all present.

Cllr Patrick Brown.

"In the interests of openness and transparency elected members need to be able to hear all viewpoints collectively to help progress the situation, as being asked to make decisions after hearing updates from meetings we're not present at has got us nowhere so far.

"I'm pleased that this proposal passed by just 2 votes where Alliance, Independents and Sinn Fein voted for this crucial next step in negotiations, with SDLP and unionist parties voting against."


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