“Toxic” tone threatens Council strike action

August 13, 2018

Newry Mourne and Down District Council workers will be balloted on potential industrial action after employees belonging to the four main trade unions called an emergency meeting last week amid claims of a “toxic atmosphere” between management and staff over what unions say is an ongoing failure to address a range of issues since the old Newry and Mourne Council merged with Down Council in 2014.

A vote of no confidence in the council’s chief executive, Liam Hannaway was also passed by over 200 council employees who attended Wednesday night’s meeting in Ballybot House in Newry. Mr Hannaway has been accused of refusing to meet with staff to discuss concerns over the HR department’s approach to restructuring and job matching following the council merger 4 years ago. 

Representatives from the four trade unions, NIPSA, SIPTU, UNITE and GMB, in attendance at the emergency meeting said relationships between staff and management were at an “all time low”, blaming an erosion of protected terms and conditions and a failure by the council to meaningfully engage with the unions on major issues affecting members.

Niall McNally of SIPTU said he hoped the no confidence vote “sends a message to the chief executive that the matter is grave.”

“But the real meat on the bones is the consultative ballot that our members have taken,” he added.

“Matters are very, very serious and we are requesting the management team to get around the table and start dealing reasonably.”

The ballot, which is expected to take place in the coming weeks, could lead to industrial action by council staff.

Joint Trade Union Secretary, Kim Graham of NIPSA explained that the consultative ballot will provide “evidence of how strong our members feel at this point in time about the erosion of the terms and conditions of their employment and the way the management team of this organisation handled the restructuring caused by the creation of the new super council.”

She said angry union members had called for the no confidence vote in the Council CEO from the floor at Wednesday’s meeting, with the vast majority of members supporting the action.

“There is a toxic atmosphere amongst the union members and the Management at NMDDC”, said Ms Graham.

“I have met with the NMDDC Chair, Mark Murnin, and we now plan on lobbying all parties and councillors of NMDDC to listen and understand to what is being put forward by Management.

“We are ready for a long campaign and if necessary we will be ready to put forward legal challenges.  However, if the Council Management is willing to sit down and constructively and genuinely engage with us we will be willing to do so.”

A statement issued by NMDDC following the controversial no confidence vote and ballot, insisted there is no evidence to substantiate the claims that terms and conditions are being eroded and reiterated the council’s commitment “to protecting and promoting the wellbeing of all of its employees.”

“Over the past three years we have undertaken and continue to undertake a process of engagement in dialogue with staff and trade union representatives around restructuring. It is our priority that staff terms and conditions are protected.”

The statement added, “During this process a number of new policies and procedures were agreed with trade union representatives. 

“The Chief Executive and Senior Management Team remain committed to further discussions with trade unions and welcomes continued engagement in the interests of all parties.”

A public protest by hundreds of the unions’ members is also set to take place at next month’s full council meeting in Downpatrick.