30 Sept 2022

Council workers speak out about pay dispute and vow to extend strike action if demands aren't met

Council workers speak out about pay dispute and vow to extend strike action if demands aren't met

Pictured are Mid Ulster Council workers on the picket line.

Mid Ulster District Council workers who are currently striking over pay have spoken of their frustration and have vowed to extend strike action if their demands aren't met.

Speaking from the picket line outside the council's Magherafelt headquarters, angry workers hit out at a statement released by the council earlier this week which questioned why members of the Unite union continue to strike when its local pay proposal is 'the most financially beneficial on offer from any council in Northern Ireland'.

A trade union spokesperson said: “This offer is not the best offer – it's only the best for those on the top.”

The Council has offered a proposed 4% pay increase for staff over two years, which they say is on top of the national pay offer which would bring a further 10% rise this year for those on the lowest scales.

The proposal also includes a one-off payment of £500.

However, the Unite members, now in the third week of four week-long strike action, have rejected this offer saying they will only come off the picket line if the council increases the one-off payment to £750.

With council's current proposed pay offer, bin lifters, street cleaners, gardeners, recycling attendants and leisure centre staff, who are all on Scale 3 and the lowest paid, would earn an extra £7.77 per week, before tax. This works out at an extra 21p per hour.

HGV drivers, recycling attendants and waste transfer loaders, who are on scale 4, would receive an extra £8.50 per week, before tax.

“What the public need to know is that for a bin man it is worth £7.77 before tax per week but for someone on £50,000 or £60,000, it's worth £30 a week payrise. This is the sort of stuff they (council) aren't telling people,” said the union spokesperson, who also highlighted the pay difference across the North's 11 council areas.

“Mid Ulster District Council have mirrored the offer in Derry City and Strabane. Up in Derry they have capped the payrise whereas Mid Ulster is giving the payrise up to a senior level, so the fat cats are earning the money. If Derry and Strabane accept the offer they are at a better starting point than us because they are getting better paid than us anyway,” he continued.

“We are in a bad position here as we are negotiating with people who are on £100,000 plus salaries so how can we make them understand what it's like for someone getting £300 a week home with travelling costs to take out of that? They don't understand.”

The workers say they have 'reluctantly' agreed to one salary increment this year and one next year however they want the one-off payment increased from £500 to £750 (gross).

“That's one hell of a compromise from our side, but unfortunately our Chief Executive has not responded positively,” continued the spokesperson.

“We are actually standing here and the people aren't getting their bins lifted for the sake of a £250 one-off payment.

“£500 gross is about £320 – what would that do to an oil tank? We want the £750 because we are thinking we would get about £540 out of it after tax. That money is coming out of council's reserves so it will have no impact on the ratepayers.

“Apparently they (the council) were meant to be embarrassed when we went out on strike. We wrote to our office and said embarrassment is when you have to go and get a loan from the credit union to pay for heating oil, that's embarrassment. We aren't standing out here just for the fun of it, we want to be back at work but we are considering extending the strike as it has angered us.

“The silence is deafening from our councillors also. They are hiding and are nowhere to be seen. These are the people who have been voted in but they don't want to know, they are doing nothing. We have approached them and there has been next to nothing back from them.”

The workers have acknowledged the disruption the strike is having on bin collection services within the area but have said despite all this the support from the public has been 'very good'.

“Back in March during the first strike, people were writing into the council and asking them why they didn't pay us extra. They made a statement saying it's impossible as it was a national payrise. How come they have moved now? They were lying to the public back then so when they are telling the public anything, how can they believe them?

“We worked through the whole pandemic, whereas all those office staff, who are on what I would call inflated salaries, and there is loads of them in Mid Ulster Council, they all worked from home.

“There was no disruption from us during Covid. We had to go into the recycling centres, the bins were still lifted. That would have been a good opportunity to take time off and use Covid as an excuse but we didn't. They gave us a one-off £500 payment for working through the pandemic but it was taxed and it only ended out at £370.

“This all boils down to £250 now and it's them (council) that is keeping the whole thing going on.”

A spokesperson for Mid Ulster District Council tonight said: “The Council’s offer is, in fact, the most financially beneficial currently being proposed by any council here.

“It includes a £500 one-off ‘cost of living’ payment and a rise in pay scales over two years for all employees (equating to 4% approximately). All employees, as requested by the Trade Unions, will benefit from this aspect of the local offer. It is, therefore, incorrect to assert that the offer will only benefit those on higher scales which amounts to some 2% of our staff.”

The spokesperson continued: “The Council has also given a commitment to a review of pay scales as part of service review and transformation work. This is considered to be significantly more impactful for those on lower scales and to be deliverable in a more sustainable manner. It will specifically address the perceived difference in pay between Mid Ulster and some other councils.

“The Council has responded to the joint trade unions, welcoming the unions’ acceptance of the rise in pay scales and reiterating that we are prepared, as we have always been prepared, to engage on this one final outstanding aspect of the local offer (an increase in the one-off payment from £500 to £750). We continue to ask, in this context and in good faith, that the current industrial action be suspended.”



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