Three more days of strikes by public transport workers in Northern Ireland are set to take place in a row over pay.
A strike last Friday saw bus and rail services halted across the region, making a significant impact in the run-up to Christmas.
Further strikes will take place later this month during some of the busiest days of the year for festive shopping and the hospitality trade.
A 48-hour strike action is to commence from 0001 on December 15, and a 24-hour strike is planned to commence a week later from 0001 on December 22 – bringing to a standstill all bus and rail services operated by public transport provider Translink.
Translink said it is disappointed by the decision to take further strike action.
In a statement it said it is “fully committed to enter into pay negotiations once the budget issue has been resolved”.
“The budget issue, which impacts on many public sector workers, needs to be resolved at the NI Executive level,” the company said.
“We would urge our colleagues not to take this further action which will only exacerbate the financial pressures on Translink as well as impact local school children and damage the livelihoods of many businesses and their staff in the retail and hospitality sectors who depend on the busy Christmas period.
“Translink apologises for any inconvenience this may cause.”
— Translink (@Translink_NI) December 6, 2023
Trade unions Unite, GMB and Siptu said their members voted in favour of the strike over what they have described as a “pay freeze” which amounts to a real-terms 11% pay cut during a cost-of-living crisis.
In a joint statement, the unions said “full responsibility for transport disruption lies with Secretary of State Chris Heaton Harris”.
They claimed Mr Heaton-Harris, who set a budget in the continued absence of a functioning Stormont Executive, “engineered a pay crisis seeking to advance a political agenda” and has “refused to intervene to resolve the pay dispute”.
Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “This dispute rest entirely at the door of the secretary of state, who could easily resolve it by providing an adequate budget for public transport services.
GMB trade union regional organiser Peter Macklin said workers “were left with no alternative due to the refusal of the secretary of state to intervene, to provide adequate budgets for our public transport services and to meet our members’ pay expectations”.
“He bears full responsibility for the entirely avoidable disruption that will accompany this strike action,” he said.
Siptu representative Niall McNally also challenged Mr Heaton-Harris, describing him as a “political arsonist”.
“He seems to think the more fires he can light the better his chances of re-establishing Stormont,” he said.
🚨 Bills keep going up but wages remain the same.
The Tories are impoverishing public services in Northern Ireland and the frontline workers who deliver them.
— SIPTU (@SIPTU) December 5, 2023
“I think it is clear to everyone that his failed strategy can only make things worse – and this is increasingly recognised right across civic society in the region.
“It is still within the power of the secretary of state to avoid this strike if he intervenes to resolve this dispute.”
People Before Profit MLA Gerry Carroll backed the calls for Mr Heaton-Harris to intervene.
“Public transport workers should not have to take strike in the mouth of Christmas. A proper pay rise is the least they deserve for the crucial service they provide,” he said.
“The British Government has the power to avert this strike and any disruption it might cause by intervening and resolving this pay dispute. I commend those transport workers taking strike action against a real-terms pay cut and cuts to our public services.”
A Northern Ireland Office spokesperson responded saying: “The UK Government has no authority to negotiate pay in Northern Ireland. It is for the relevant NI departments to negotiate pay policies.
“It remains the Secretary of State’s priority to see the return of locally elected, accountable and effective devolved government, which is the best way for Northern Ireland to be governed.
“The Secretary of State has commissioned a range of information and advice from the Northern Ireland Civil Service on potential measures to raise more public revenue, or otherwise to improve the sustainability of public finances in Northern Ireland, for an incoming executive to consider.”