Negotiations ‘completely broken down’ says unions as Armagh Banbridge and Craigavon Council workers strike

A strike by Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Council workers may last four weeks, says unions.

The strike began this morning with pickets held at South Lakes Leisure Centre and across the Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Council areas.

Unions says negotiations with ABC Council have ‘completely broken down’ and claim it is up to management to put a ‘decent offer’ on the table.

Unite the Union reveals views of members

At the Armagh Banbridge and Craigavon Council workers' picket line at South Lakes Leisure Centre are Neil Moore, Unite Regional Officer and Alan Perry, GMB Regional Organiser. Neil Moore said: "This is the first day of potentially four weeks of strike action amongst Unite members. As we are aware, the derisory pay offers on the table from previous years are still in dispute here. In fact our members over the past 10 years have taken a real terms pay cut as inflation now rockets past 12%, our members are simply demanding a fair pay increase."

Neil Moore of Regional Officer for Unite said: “This is the first day of potentially four weeks of strike action amongst Unite members. As we are aware, the derisory pay offers on the table from previous years are still in dispute here. In fact our members over the past 10 years have taken a real terms pay cut as inflation now rockets past 12%, our members are simply demanding a fair pay increase. The Council is holding out. The Council isn’t putting a decent offer on the table and is playing games with our members which has forced us into the position of coming out on strike today.”

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

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

GMB union represented on picket line

Alan Perry, Regional Organiser with GMB Trade Union said: “We have made it quite clear in our letter to management and councillors that it is our preferred option that there is an increase in the increments in relation to every employee. Unfortunately the council is not in a position to do that at the moment, hence why were are in industrial action.”

Asked about the outcome of the strike he said it was a question for management. “It is up to them to put a meaningful offer on the table that we can take back to our members and let them decide whether it is meaningful or not.”

Breakdown in negotiations

Workers in the GMB union 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.

Mr Moore said negotiations with the council had completely broken down. “This is what our reps have been telling us, The council has been acting in bad faith up until this point and hasn’t put anything that is half way respectful towards council workers who worked the whole way throughout the pandemic on the table. Now is the time the our members, GMB members and NIPSA members are joining together, coordinating and fighting for pay justice.”

He explained that most of the workers Unite represents work in the refuse department and parks. “Our strike is solid. As you can see, the South Lakes Leisure Centre is completely closed today. A number of disappointed families unable to take their swims, a number of disappointed gym goers and this is totally on the Council and management. They could have put a solution on the table and could have avoided this disruption. We are going to see severe disruption to bin collections and street cleansing over the next few weeks and that is on the Council. This is a council which is operating on a huge surplus. This is a council that is able to spend £1.5m on consultants and at the same time our members pay pales into insignificance.”

‘Council’s management didn’t have a mandate to negotiate’ claims GMB

Mr Perry said: “I think it is very regrettable first and foremost that we are in this postion. We have had a number of meetings with management over the course of the last number of weeks which resulted in a meeting with the LRA last week. Those talks broke down when it was quite clear management in this council did not have a mandate to negotiate and hence we had no option but to take our members out on industrial action. The majority of these members have been in this role since the formation of this council and are still on less terms and conditions compared to some of their counterparts in other councils. Part of our dispute also centres around harmonisation right across the board.

Workers in Unite the Union 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.

Statement from Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Council

A spokesperson for the council said: “The Council deeply regrets that this action has taken place, and the impact that it is having on residents. Council remains committed to finding a resolution through on-going discussions with Trade Unions.

“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 (pro rata) 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.

“The current national pay offer of £1,925 for each employee represents a pressure of approximately £3.2million on council budgets for this year and will need to be found each year going forward. The additional pay increase being asked for by Trade Unions will increase this figure substantially. 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 genuine offers made in good faith during discussions at the LRA last week, with the support of Elected Members to try to resolve the matter.

“The council will seek to minimise the impact caused, and will endeavour to keep residents informed of service disruptions throughout this period of industrial action via its website: www.armaghbanbridgecraigavon.gov.uk/servicedisruption, on social media (Facebook and Twitter)”.

Workers 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.

Chief Executive Roger Wilson spoke on the breakdown in negotions

Roger Wilson said: “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, to provide immediate financial relief to staff dealing with cost of living pressures right now, at a cost to council of £2.3m.

“This offer combined with the national pay award of £1925 would have meant an additional £3,325 of payments to each employee (pro rata) during 2022/23, with a further commitment to a pay and grading review. In real terms staff on lower scale incomes would receive up to a 17.6%, significantly more than the offer sought. 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. The demand of the JTUs on salary scale incremental rises, will only provide a relatively small monthly increase to most people to deal with what is an immediate pressure.  

He added: “Council is also aware that Union members were not consulted on the offer prior to the Trade Unions rejection, and those who did vote for strike action, did so before this offer was made. The current national pay offer of £1,925 for each employee represents a pressure of approximately £3.2million on council budgets for this year and will be need to be found each year going forward.  Any additional incremental pay increase asked for by Trade Unions will increase this figure substantially. Council must be mindful of the need to manage the rates burden being placed on households and businesses in what are already difficult times.

“Monday will see the most severe impact to services and facilities across the borough with all three Trade Unions (NIPSA, GMB, and Unite the Union) taking formal strike action, however the council remains fully committed to finding the right solution through on-going discussions, one that protects services and employment. The council will seek to minimise the impact caused, and will endeavour to keep the public informed of service disruptions throughout the period of industrial action via its website: www.armaghbanbridgecraigavon.gov.uk/servicedisruption, on Facebook and Twitter.”

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.