Strike action affects schools and councils across Northern Ireland

A string of frontline services across Northern Ireland including school transport, meals and council services such as bin collections have been disrupted by strike action over pay.

The Education Authority (EA) announced that close to 100 transport services out of 2,750 were affected.

Claire Duffield, speaking for the EA said some of the children unable to attend school are those with special educational needs.

A picket sign placed on a door at Belfast City Hall Credit: Liam McBurney/PA

“It is really disappointing when there is disruption that affects some of our most vulnerable children,” she told reporters.

Ms Duffield said one special school has moved to remote learning.

She said the EA had requested exemptions twice for services for special schools, and she is disappointed that those requests were rejected.

“We will continue to escalate those requests so that we can attempt to minimise the disruption throughout the week,” she said.

“We have specifically requested derogation in order to protect the services so that classroom assistants at Glenveagh Special School attend work and the school can remain open and not be required to go to remote learning.

“Specifically we’ve requested protection so that the drivers who operate transport for wheelchair-based passengers can run as normal.”

In a separate action, university workers are staging a walkout over pensions.

At Belfast City Hall, council worker John Moore said the strike would last for seven days.

The Unite shop steward said workers needed a 10% pay increase to make up for past pay freezes and rising living costs.

He suggested that politicians, rather than frontline workers, take effective pay cuts.

“We’re here today because of the 1.75% pay rise that was offered to us last year. It was a slap in the face,” he said.

“1.75% doesn’t cut it, 1.25%, they’ll take it off us next month in national insurance and we would hope to get at least 10% to make it liveable for ourselves and the knock-on effect to our families.

John Moore with fellow workers and colleagues on the picket line at the rear entrance of Belfast City Hall Credit: Liam McBurney/PA

“The local councils and the Government at Westminster need to listen to the people, the low paid frontline working class people on the ground.

“This is a slap in the face. We worked through a pandemic, we didn’t get anything for that, and now a 1.75% pay rise is totally unacceptable, it is another pay cut. In the last 10-11 years we’re about 22% behind.

“We have to live as well, our families have to live. We have mortgages to pay, bills to pay, energy prices are going through the roof, food bills are going through the roof.

“We would like the Government to listen to us. Maybe if they themselves at Westminster would take a pay cut instead of making the low paid frontline staff who are in hardship at the moment be forced to take pay cuts.”

University and College Union workers and supporters on a picket line at Queen’s University Belfast Credit: Liam McBurney/PA

Michael Pierse, a senior lecturer in English Literature at Queen’s University, and a member of the University and College Union (UCU), said the pension had been “decimated”.

“We’re on strike again due to the universities refusing to budge on substantive changes they have made to our pensions, the changes are enormous in the sense they cut our pensions between 30-40%,” he said.

“We’re on strike for other reasons too, wages have gone down in the region of 20% since 2009, and massive casualisation at universities which means when they have opportunities to give someone a permanent job, sometimes they keep them strung along for years which makes people have difficulties in making big life decisions.

“Conditions generally have been getting worse but the pensions issue is the straw that has broken the camel’s back. A lot of people are very annoyed.”