Workers at Northern Ireland ports and meat plants strike over pay

CWI supporting striking workers at Belfast port. Carmel Gates, General Secretary NIPSA, pictured centre.

Northern Ireland Public Service Alliance (NIPSA) trade union members in Northern Ireland ports and meat plants have begun five days of hard-hitting strike action over the issue of pay. The action has raised the sights of public sector workers across the civil service. If necessary, more action shall be called over the next few weeks.

Nipsa members working in the department of agriculture, environment and rural affairs will commence five-day strike action from Monday 30th October to Friday 29th October. Both ‘Red’ and ‘Green’ lanes will be impacted (see below). The action is in protest over the derisory pay award of £552 to all civil servants in Northern Ireland for 2022 – 23, when inflation was above 10%.

The industrial action comes as the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) continues to boycott the Stormont Assembly over its opposition the Brexit trading arrangements. Without the DUP’s involvement, the power sharing Executive cannot meet, and a budget crisis has developed, adversely affecting the Northern Ireland economy. The Tory government is imposing ‘sanctions’ to try to force the DUP back into local government, with adverse affects on on pay, jobs, services, and infrastructure.

Nipsa General Secretary, Carmel Gates said: “public sector workers have become hostages to any conflict between the Secretary of State and the Northern Ireland political parties. The pay has become a pawn in a game. The situation must come to an end. Political decision-makers must act responsibly and engage with trade unions. At this point, all power lies in the hands of the Secretary of State. He has within his gift to majorly resolve this issue. All that is required is the political will to end the sanctions regime.”

The Financial Times (London) commented: “A pay strike by vets and port inspectors threatens to seriously disrupt agri-food imports and Northern Ireland’s meat sector and could lead to empty shelves in shops, industry and union figures have warned. The five-day walkout by 260 vets and phytosanitary inspectors from the Northern Ireland Public Service Alliance and GMB trade unions will pose the first test of the post-Brexit Windsor framework deal that began to come into effect at the start of this month. Meat and other chilled foods entering Northern Ireland from Britain under the Windsor framework’s red lane — which require EU sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) checks to be able to travel on into Ireland and the EU — will be affected.”

The FT article goes on to quote Carmel Gates. “All meat and poultry [slaughter] will have to halt. This is designed to be a significant action…we expect some supermarket shelves will empty” as a result.

On pay, the FT reports: “Pay rises for public service workers in Northern Ireland have been restricted because of the region’s severe budget crisis. Gates said no offer had yet been made for the year beginning August 1 and that a lump-sum payment of £552 last year represented an increase of less than 1 per cent for many workers at a time of double-digit inflation.”