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Industrial action to go ahead despite Council management agreeing to unions’ ‘list of demands’

Industrial action at Newry, Mourne and Down District Council will go ahead on Monday as planned despite unions’ “list of demands” being agreed to by senior Council management.

NMD Council representatives have been involved in discussions to resolve the current trade union dispute and have held meetings on Thursday and Friday (April 6-7) with the four recognised trade unions, facilitated by the Labour Relations Agency (LRA).

However, there was to be no ‘Good Friday Agreement’ between the parties with the Joint Trade Union Side (JTUS) confirming they will proceed with their action.

However, a Council spokesperson stated that management side agreed to the JTUS list of demands and that management also agreed for the work going forward to be supported by an independent facilitator.

Related: Newry Council dispute results in work-to-rule industrial action from Easter Monday

In a statement, Council said that early in the discussions, management submitted a set of proposals (1-8 below) through the LRA representatives, which they believed would resolve the issues which gave rise to the current dispute and avert the action short of strike, intended to commence on Easter Monday.

Residents will be advised of the impact to Council services via the Council’s social media channels.

The proposals were:

1. Pay Protection Arrangements: Draft pay protection proposals had been presented to the Joint Trade Union Side (JTUS) 2021 and 2022 and at today’s meeting, revised proposals were tabled which increased compensation to affected employees.

2. Alignment of transferred NI Civil Service (NICS) Planning staff to NMDDC pay and grading: As part of local pay negotiations in late 2022 agreement was reached to award 2 additional spinal column increments to employees on the NJC pay and grading scale, one with effect from April 1, 2022 and a second from April 1, 2023. Due to the fact that a small number of former NICS employees remain on NICS pay scales these additional column increments did not apply to this group of employees, therefore the proposals were to address this as above, as well as increased mileage rates for business travel.

3. Household Recycling Centre (HRC) Operations: Proposals to revise the opening hours of HRC sites across the district included restructuring the pay arrangements for HRC employees.

4. Standard Working Week: Currently, the majority of NMDDC employees are employed on a 37-hour FTE working week and, in its proposals, management proposed the introduction of a 36-hour FTE working week for all employees.

5. Conditioned Overtime: In the interests of staff wellbeing and in line with a proposed reduction to the working week from 37 to 36 hours, management proposed discontinuing conditioned overtime (i.e., the contractual requirement to work in excess of FTE hours), and financially compensate those affected.

6. Additional Payments and Shift Allowance: A small number of employees currently receive shift allowance plus additional payments. To create consistency across the organisation, management proposed that payments for non-standard working (weekend enhancements, evening rates etc) would be replaced by staff receiving shift allowance, via negotiation. Where this results in a member of staff facing detriment, the proposed pay protection arrangements would apply.

7. Job Evaluation: In February 2022, management provided the JTUS with draft terms of reference for an ‘in house’ approach to job evaluation, followed by draft interim arrangements on new/revised job descriptions in March 2022. In recent weeks, the Council has been advised that a regional joint employer and trade union approach to job evaluation is being progressed via the Local Government Staff Commission (LGSC) and the Northern Ireland Local Government Association (NILGA). Management welcome this regional approach to job evaluation.

8. Rebuilding the Industrial Relations framework: Management recognises that improved industrial relations in NMDDC is essential for the continued growth of the Council and its employees and so proposed that an external facilitator be appointed to
work with NMDDC Management Side and JTUS representatives towards rebuilding the Industrial Relations Framework.

The statement continued: “Management Side understands such work has been completed in another council, with the assistance of an agreed LRA Arbitrator and would welcome a similar approach be adopted in NMDDC.

“The Council will continue to work with the LRA and to engage in dialogue with the Trade Unions to find a workable solution as quickly as possible in the best interests of the staff and rate payers in the district.”

Spokesperson for the trade union side, Kevin Kelly, speaking on Thursday, said: “Members of all four trade unions at NMDDC have lost confidence in management.

“They are reneging on written commitments entered into when the last dispute was concluded and they are both wanting to move away from a partnership-based approach to job evaluation, but also remove allowances from new recruits creating a two-tier workforce.

“This is not something our members will accept. It is unbelievable that management believe they can insult the intelligence of our members.

“Do they think workers or their trade union representatives cannot read or understand the agreements reached. We are clear that this tactic will not work and we will take whatever action is required to ensure it stops.”

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