Armagh Banbridge and Craigavon Council strike: Call for senior leadership of council to ‘urgently engage with unions’

The Chief Executive of Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Council and the senior leadership team have been asked to ‘urgently re-engage’ with the unions amid Day Two of the strike.

Around 1,000 workers from three unions, Unite, GMB and NIPSA, started industrial action on Monday following the break down in pay negotiations.

The unions are seeking ‘a realistic pay rise’ as well as a harmonisation of salaries, an issue which has not been dealt with since the amalgamation of the three Councils in 2015.

The historic councils had paid different salaries for the same jobs and, in the past eight years, this anomaly has not been dealt with leading to some members of staff earning more than others doing the same job.

Roger Wilson, Chief Executive, Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council.

The SDLP Group on ABC Council met on Monday night and has written a letter to the Chief Executive of the Council Roger Wilson asking that he and the Senior Leadership team urgently re-engage with staff representatives in Unite, NIPSA and GMB and seek a resolution to the ongoing dispute.

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Large numbers at pickets as Armagh Banbridge and Craigavon Council staff start s...

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‘No stone should be left unturned’

SDLP Group Leader Cllr Thomas O’Hanlon said: “We understand efforts to date have not ended in a resolution, however no stone should be left unturned and every effort should be made by both sides to seek a resolution. In our engagement with the Trade Union representatives, we believe there is good will and a desire to resolve the issues. Inclusive face-to-face talks can and will deliver a positive solution.

“We support the desire to have the harmonisation of roles and structures within council completed immediately and would want to see a time-bound agreement reached on the delivery of it. We know this would go some way to helping improve industrial relations within council.

“The impact the ongoing cost of living crises is having a real impact on every household across our council area, including our own staff, and economists predict even tougher times ahead. Ratepayers rightly expect high quality, efficient council services in Refuse Collection/ Street Cleansing, Parks, Economic and Community Development, Leisure & Tourism and all the back office services Council provide. Many of those same ratepayers are also employees of council.

Workers in the Unite and GMB unions who are on the picket line at South Lakes Leisure Centre in Craigavon. It is estimated around 1000 workers at Armagh Banbridge and Craigavon Council will be taking industrial action.

‘Scrap District Electoral Fund to help out workings of negotiations’

“We are also acutely aware of the very real impact the increase in costs is having on our own Council budgets and in particular utility bills. We must continue to be responsible in our financial management of council. To this end, we believe the proposed DEA Fund (District Electoral Area Fund) should be shelved immediately. This £1 million fund does not direct the council’s limited resources strategically, it does not take account reoccurring costs incurred by any project and the split of approximately £140,000 per DEA will not deliver strategic benefit for the ratepayer or communities. There seems to be a tendency creeping into the organisation, which is seeking to divert what should be routine maintenance work to this fund. This is unacceptable.”

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“We see the rushed creation of this fund as a slush-fund and an attempt to curry favour in the run up to the local government election 2023. With just a few months left in this mandate, we believe the policy work for such a fund can and should be developed, including an independent objective scoring criteria and then it can be delivered through the council’s normal annual budget cycle in the next financial year and each year thereafter. The f1 Million saved by shelving this proposal this year can and should be used to help fund some of the out workings of the current negotiations with staff representatives.

“Households and businesses alike demand better from local government. Elected members of Council and staff alike want to see this area excel as a place to live, work and invest in. We are proud of the way staff at every level in the organisation and Councillors work in partnership to deliver a better community for everyone. We would implore you to make every effort to bring all parties to the table and deliver a resolution as soon as possible.”

Sinn Féin’s response to strike

Council Group leader Cllr. Liam Mackle said: “Myself and Cllr Catherine Nelson visited the picket line today at the South Lakes Leisure Centre. Sinn Féin will always support the right of workers to take industrial action to protect their interests. We had some useful discussions with a number of Trade Union officials and we continue to work hard to find a resolution to the strike.”

Response from Armagh Banbridge and Craigavon Council

A spokesperson for Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council said: “The council deeply regrets industrial action taking place, and the impact that it is having on residents, and remains fully committed to finding a resolution through on-going discussions with Trade Unions in the days ahead.

“Council has in place an agreed implementation plan for the harmonisation of roles and structures across the organisation, a process currently halted due to industrial action. In addition, council has made a substantial offer to the Trade Unions that would see a payment of £1400 spread across two £700 payments for all employees. This offer combined with the national pay award of £1925 would have meant an additional £3,325 of payments to each employee during 2022/23.

“The Council position is that the offer proposed meets and exceeds the objective being asked by the Trade Unions, to help staff with the current cost of living crisis. Council must be mindful of the need to manage the rates burden being placed on households and businesses in what are already difficult times. All offers put forward by council were made with the support of Elected Members, to try to resolve the matter.”