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Mid Ulster council chief to meet unions ‘in good faith’

Mid Ulster District Council’s Chief Executive is to meet with trade union representatives today (Tuesday, May 31) in an effort to bring the threat of any further strike action to an end.

The industrial action, which has taken place on several occasions this year, relates to a dispute over the 2021-22 pay award which has been agreed nationally by the National Joint Council on behalf of councils in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The award for the 2021-22 year has been agreed at 1.75 per cent and the increase has been implemented by the council.

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Speaking at May’s monthly meeting, held last Thursday (May 26), the council’s chief executive, Adrian McCreesh, confirmed he would meet with union representatives and will negotiate with them in good faith.

Union members across Northern Ireland have been involved in strike action over pay. Picture: Jonathan Porter/PressEye

He addressed the chamber following comments from Councillor Barry Monteith who extended solidarity with those workers taking industrial action and asked that council explores what options it has to address these concerns.

“I take on board what officers are saying about implications on rates estimates from potentially moving away from joint negotiations but I think we need to go into this in more depth,” said Cllr Monteith.

“We owe it to these workers to investigate what opportunities there may be for us to negotiate with them directly and what implications such actions would have financially for us.

“I do get the sense we are happy to say we have sympathy with you and are standing beside you and all that but the reality of it is we are in charge of the budget of this organisation.

“It is this organisation that pays the wages and I think it is an abdication of responsibility that we don’t investigate further what we can or can’t do.”

He continued: “This issue is not going to go away. Our staff were being lauded just two years ago, now they are coming back and asking for our help and I think it is wrong of us to say it is out of our hands, it is a joint negotiation and there is nothing we can do.

“They are going to keep going, the strike will continue and the joint negotiation process for next year undoubtedly will not serve the purpose of workers at this pay grade either.

“The world has changed, we are in unprecedented times and I think it is incumbent on us to do what we can, we are responsible for our budget and I would propose officers bring forward a report outlining cost implications of dealing directly with the lowest paid workers.

“If we can’t break away from joint negotiations we need to be sure that the lowest paid are looked after. We need to look at a tapered rise. A one size fits all percentage rise does not work. 1.75 per cent is a lot less of a rise for someone on a low wage compared to someone on a higher wage.

“I know all councillors are sympathetic but our sympathy needs to go further than just words.”

At this point the council’s chief executive confirmed he had accepted a formal invitation to meet with trade union representatives.

“I have been formally asked to meet with the unions and have agreed to do so and will meet on Tuesday, May 31,” said Mr McCreesh.

“I will meet and negotiate in good faith and I would ask members to allow that to take its course.

Sinn Fein group leader, Councillor Cathal Mallaghan said he would like to see these negotiations continue on a collective basis to ensure people have “the same quality of work life” across all 11 councils.

“If you are a refuge collector or leisure attendant in Mid Ulster you should be able to expect the same level of pay as colleagues in Fermanagh and Omagh or whatever other council it happens to be,” he said.

Councillor Dan Kerr said he was in agreement with Cllr Monteith and called on the council to “show some innovation” to address staff concerns.

“Joint negotiation is not fit for purpose,” he said. “Saying our hands are tied due to collective negotiation no longer washes.

“I welcome confirmation that our chief executive is going to meet the unions but we need to come to an understanding that reflects our appreciation for the work of the front line services throughout the pandemic.

“Now is the time to show leadership at a local government level,” he added.

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