Pay dispute threatens to disrupt North’s electricity supply

Staff at Systems Operator Northern Ireland vote for industrial action, including strike

The Prospect union said it was willing to continue talks with the electricity grid company but added that it needed a more realistic approach from the firm. File photograph: Eric Luke

The Prospect union said it was willing to continue talks with the electricity grid company but added that it needed a more realistic approach from the firm. File photograph: Eric Luke

 

A pay row threatens to disrupt electricity supplies to homes and businesses in Northern Ireland from next month.

Staff at electricity grid manager System Operator Northern Ireland (Soni), voted on Friday for industrial action, up to and including strike, in an ongoing dispute over pay.

Angela Moffatt, negotiating officer with their trade union Prospect, said workers could begin industrial action next month if the dispute with Soni is not resolved. The company is owned by the Republic’s grid operator, Eirgrid,

“Initially we would be looking at action short of strikes, which by no means should be underestimated in terms of the impact it could have on third parties,” she warned.

Ms Moffatt added that workers could “cease to undertake certain tasks”, which she said could disrupt Soni’s business. She emphasised that staff have taken steps to ensure any action does not harm public safety.

Prospect says that 90 per cent of more than 100 workers voted in favour of industrial action. And the union argues that members have not had a cost of living pay increase since 2015, even though Northern Ireland’s Utility Regulator has been allocating money to Soni for this purpose.

“Soni have failed to make a meaningful offer to members to date, offers have been derisory,” said Ms Moffatt. She accused the company of being led by “poor Eirgrid strategy on pay and industrial relations” and warned that the company needed to begin treating workers fairly.

Soni general manager Robin McCormick said the company had invited union representatives to arbitration through the Labour Relations Agency (LRA).

“Soni has also made what we feel is a fair pay offer which has been rejected by the union,” he added. “The offer of independent arbitration remains on the table and we call on the Prospect union to withdraw the industrial action notice and to accept our offer of talks through the LRA.”

Mr McCormick added that in the meantime company’s priority would be to maintain a secure electricity supply to homes and businesses in the North.

Ms Moffatt stressed that the union was willing to continue talks but argued that it required a more realistic approach from the company.

“The union will continue to seek resolution to avoid industrial action, but Prospect are warning of major impacts on third-party organisations if it goes ahead,” she said.

Soni has been part of the State-owned Eirgrid group since 2009. It operates under a licence granted by the Utility Regulator and within price control limits designed to ensure that electricity consumers get value for money.