Politicians in North face being locked out of Stormont as key staff threaten strike

‘No other option’ but industrial action says Northern Ireland Public Servants Alliance (Nipsa)

Newly-elected MLAS in the North face being locked out of Stormont as key staff are threatening a strike which could paralyse the parliament.

As voters in the region go to the polls to return 90 elected representatives to the devolved Assembly, Northern Ireland Public Servants Alliance (Nipsa) says it has been “left with no other option” but industrial action.

Members are in dispute with their employers, the Assembly Commission, about what it claims is a de facto pay cut as well as “restrictive” work from home policies as pandemic restrictions recede.

Unless management “get around the table” to forge agreement, key workers at Parliament Buildings will start strike action next Thursday, when new MLAs are set to return to try to establish a new power-sharing Executive, Nipsa is warning.

Dooley Harte, assistant secretary at Nipsa, said more than 81 per cent of its union members have voted in support of the industrial action at Stormont.

“Our members carry out all the necessary functions at Parliament Buildings,” he said.

“We have members in HR and finance, but we also have members who are the ushers, security, IT, researchers, the clerks of the various committees, Hansard, legal services - all the functions of the Assembly are covered.

“We have very reluctantly come to this position.”

Mr Harte said there was “still a window for our employer to get back round the table with us and get a negotiated settlement of these issues before Thursday.”

“We don’t want to go out on strike on Thursday.. but we have been left with no other option because of the imposition of these issues,” he added.

The dispute centres on a two per cent pay rise for staff introduced in August last year.

Nipsa says it amounts to a pay cut against the backdrop of a six per cent hike in inflation, as staff struggle to cope with the cost of living crisis, increased utility, food and fuel bills.

A “restrictive working from home policy” is also at issue.

Staff had “kept local government afloat over the past two years, and management are now seeking to impose a very restrictive working from home policy that will not provide the necessary flexibility to allow members work from home,” said Mr Harte.

Other areas of the public sector have been able to introduce flexible policies which both protect business and employee needs, he added.

“It is on both those issues that our members have taken the reluctant decision to consider strike action next week,” he told BBC’s Good Morning Ulster.

On the timing of the threatened action, Mr Harte said it was designed to “bring the maximum pressure on the management side and on political representatives in order to get a resolution of these issues”.

“That is why we have looked to next Thursday for the beginning of this campaign.”

Mr Harte added: “We are asking management to get back round the table. We need to discuss how to address cost of living issues around pay and changes to the working from home policy.”