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NI public sector workers go on strike in pay dispute

Tens of thousands of workers are taking to picket lines across Northern Ireland today in one of the biggest strikes in a generation.

Services across health, education, transport and the wider civil service will be severely disrupted, as up to 170,000 public sector workers take to the streets over pay.

15 trade unions are involved in the co-ordinated industrial action and have called for cost of living pay increases for workers.

In some cases, workers are seeking pay parity with their counterparts in other parts of the United Kingdom.

As well as individual pickets, lunchtime rallies will also be held in Belfast, Derry, Omagh, Enniskillen and Magherafelt.

In Belfast, six parades will converge on City Hall for the rally at 12pm.

Nurses, teachers, health and education support staff, bus and rail workers, and civil servants are among those striking today.

Aside from the direct impact on public services, the industrial action combined with freezing temperatures, is expected to lead to widespread travel disruption for the wider public.

The road network will be severely hit as limited gritting means just four major routes, the M1, M2, A1 and A4 will treated amidst the extremely cold weather.

Other roads will not be gritted and people have been warned to only make journeys that are “absolutely essential”.

The Department of Infrastructure has reminded road users that roads leading to those limited salted parts of the network will not be treated and extreme caution is advised.

Road users and pedestrians have been advised to take extreme care.

Gritting is expected to be disrupted for a number of days.

All of today’s bus and rail services have been cancelled

Translink bus and rail services have been cancelled for the day.

The cross-border rail service between Belfast and Dublin has also been affected and a limited Enterprise services will operate between Dundalk and Dublin only.

Schools will be closed and limited health services will be available today, similar to those on a Christmas Day.

The Department of Health said the disruption would be on a scale not experienced from previous industrial action.

The strike follows a last-minute attempt to get Stormont back up and running.

A recall of the Northern Assembly failed to elect a speaker of the assembly, after the DUP blocked the election.

It has refused to return to Stormont in protest over post-Brexit trading rules.

The failure to restore the powersharing institutions means a £3.3 billion package, including around £600 million for public pay, could not be unlocked.

The deal from Northern Secretary Chris Heaton Harris depends on parties returning to Stormont.

Political parties in Northern Ireland, including the DUP and Sinn Féin, have called for the money to pay workers to be released immediately and separated from the wider political situation.

NI Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris said he was ‘deeply disappointed’ that a €1bn public sector package was not taken up

Unions have objected to workers’ pay being linked to the wider deal and say their members have been used as “pawns” and “leverage”.

Ahead of today’s strike, Mr Heaton-Harris said that while public sector pay was devolved, a “fair and generous package” which would address the issue, and which includes over £1 billion to stabalise public services, has been offered by the UK government.

“This will require Ministers being back to work in Stormont so that decisions on governing can be taken in the round.”

The Northern Secretary said he was “deeply disappointed” that the funding has not been taken up, but the offer is still on the table.

“It’s time for the NI parties to take decisions on how they will best serve the interests of the people of Northern Ireland,” he said.

The Irish Congress of Trade Unions has said that the Secretary of State’s strategy has “clearly failed and it has failed the people of Northern Ireland”.

ICTU Assistant Secretary Gerry Murphy said that the strikes and rallies would show “industrial and public solidarity on a scale never seen before in this place”.

“It only remains for Chris Heaton-Harris to do the decent thing and release the funds,” he said.


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