Huge turn out in borough for public sector strike



By Lesley Walsh

HUNDREDS of workers from diverse sectors braved the cold to join picket lines across the borough to join the largest strike of public sector workers ever seen in Northern Ireland.

Local nurses, teachers, bus drivers, cleaners, caterers and classroom assistants were among the workers who took part in Thursday’s industrial action to register their demands for better pay and conditions.

It is estimated that employees from across the Ards and North Down area were part of a mass walkout involving up to 150,000 people across the entire province.

Members of the NASUWT and NAHT manned a picket line at Dundonald High School, while in Bangor, union members from Bangor Academy and Bloomfield Primary School in Bangor also registered their opposition to the status quo.

Members of the Royal College of Nursing and Nipsa gathered at Ards Hospital, holding placards calling for ‘fair pay for nursing’ and warned that ‘staff shortages cost lives’.

Representatives of the unions were joined by Unison members and those from the British Dietetic Association echoing their calls a short distance away at the Ulster Hospital in Dundonald, that they too were ‘pushing for pay parity’. 

Their banners raised the alarming question ‘will there be enough staff when you need care’ prompting support from passing motorists. 

At both Bangor train and bus stations, and Newtowards’ bus depot, members of Nipsa, Unite, the GMB and Siptu (Services Industrial Professional and Technical Union) called for ‘fair pay now’.

They carried banners demanding the ‘protection of public services’, when spirits were kept high and the picketers warm in plunging temperatures, with the help of brazier fires.

A blend of union members also converged on the Department of Education’s headquarters, Rathgael House, in Bangor, where banners flew their message that ‘support staff are the lifeline for school services’. 

The strike action has been regarded by some as a clear message to the DUP and the Secretary of State, Chris Heaton-Harris,to do whatever they can to get back to Stormont to facilitate the return of the Northern Ireland Executive.

Members of Translink who were on the picket lines, were among those who reached out to DUP MPs and MLAs directly, appealing for the party to go back into government.

“Thursday was brilliant, everyone was out and I think it achieved a lot,” said one union member.  “But the DUP is backed into a corner now, they have to go back to fix this.”

Members of Unite and the GMB which operate gritters on local roads continue to strike. Several hundred Roads Service workers are taking part in the action that was due to continue from last Thursday, right up until yesterday, Wednesday, January 24. Workers in the Forestry Service, who are members of the Unite union, also continued their strike. 

Unite has described the eight-day strike among school workers as ‘an escalation of ongoing industrial dispute seeking implementation of a pay and grading review’.

In a statement, the EA said it recognised the challenges the strike action presented for schools, parents, carers and young people.

It said it was ‘making every effort to minimise disruption to services’ and keep families and staff informed.