Northern Ireland bus and train workers cancel planned February strike

NIR train on the Bangor line
NIR train on the Bangor line

Public transport workers in Northern Ireland have cancelled a strike that would have brought bus and rail services to a halt on 15 February.

This is to give political leaders space to make an improved pay offer, unions have said.

Workers have walked out six times since December in a dispute over pay.

However, if there is no pay offer, unions said bus and train workers will go ahead with a 72-hour strike beginning on 27 February.

Infrastructure Minister John O'Dowd welcomed the move, saying it was the "right action to allow time to get around the table and discuss their pay".

"I am happy to meet with the unions to discuss this important issue and to encourage them to reach a resolution with Translink management on their pay award as quickly as possible," he added.

The announcement by unions comes shortly after devolution in Northern Ireland was restored with the UK government granting £3.3bn for the incoming executive.

Of this, almost £600m is earmarked to help settle public sector pay claims.

Speaking after a meeting with Northern Ireland Finance Minister Caoimhe Archibald, ICTU, the trade union umbrella group, said it is confident the money is there to settle pay claims.

ICTU assistant general secretary Gerry Murphy said: "The financial package makes available money for public sector pay this year and also provides further funding allocations to deal with both outstanding pay issues and reform measures such as re-grading."

Small window for Stormont

There have been a series of strikes in Northern Ireland in recent months by public sector workers in dispute over their pay.

Many are paid less than counterparts in the rest of the UK and have not received a pay rise in the last number of years.

This culminated in a mass strike on 18 January, in which 16 trade unions and tens of thousands of public sector workers took part in one of the largest industrial actions in Northern Ireland history.

The executive has called for talks with the government on long-term funding stability to deliver public services, with Ms O'Neill saying NI's funding model was the executive's priority.

Unite's general secretary Sharon Graham said Stormont has a "small window" to come forward with a pay offer for bus and rail workers.

She said promises of increased budgets must "immediately translate into a fair pay increase" for members of the union.

Siptu regional organiser Niall McNally said members are "determined" to "get what they deserve".

"Infrastructure minister John O'Dowd must move quickly to address the underfunding of public transport in Northern Ireland and ensure adequate funding for this vital public service - and to allow public transport workers to receive a cost-of-living pay increase," he added.

Meanwhile, GMB organiser Peter Macklin said: "The unions want to provide the politicians and Translink the space to provide a cost-of-living pay increase for public transport workers.

"However, they should be under no illusions, in the absence of any such offer, our members will be left with no alternative but to proceed with the planned three-day action at the end of the month."