Strike against austerity: Thousands of workers across N Ireland defy Tory cuts

Reuters/Neil Hall
​Northern Ireland’s trade unions claim Friday’s public sector strike is among the biggest in years, as workers in transport, education, road services, fire and rescue and health services defy their bosses over cuts.

Organized by Unite the Union, UNISON and GMB, leaders say austerity measures will likely result in up to 20,000 job losses over the next few years.

Picket lines and demonstrations are taking place across the region as workers confronted public sector cuts. Northern Ireland is more dependent on central government than any other part of the UK.

Ahead of the strike Michael Mulholland, GMB regional organizer, said: “On Friday 13th March in Northern Ireland we will see one of the largest trade union organized protests in many years.

Unite regional secretary Jimmy Kelly said in a statement: “Without standing up to this, we can expect another four years of even more punishing austerity budgets.

The scale of these cuts will decimate our public health, education and transport services, all of which are already pushed to breaking point.

Speaking to RT, Anne Speed, head of bargaining at UNISON said: “We’re all set for industrial action.

She added: “They’ll be at least 10 rallies across the main towns and cities in Northern Ireland at around lunchtime on Friday.

Left political groups in mainland Britain sent messages of support.

Socialist Party of England and Wales spokesperson Judy Bieshon told RT the group “sends support to the strike rallies taking place across Northern Ireland today.

Tens of thousands of workers have today united in a one-day public sector strike across Northern Ireland. In the civil service, health, education, transport and more, workers have joined together to say no.

Across Ireland, Britain and Europe people have had enough of austerity,” she said.

Late last night the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service (NIAS) took the unusual step of declaring a major emergency in a move that could disrupt the industrial action.

The NIAS trust had come to terms with unions to provide ambulance cover for Friday, but after being “inundated” with calls from workers saying that they were withdrawing labor, bosses opted to declare an emergency.

The declaration brings into effect a contingency clause which allows bosses to recall staff.

READ MORE: Fighting austerity: N Ireland braces for strike against budget cuts, largest in years

An NIAS spokesperson told the Guardian newspaper: “The Northern Ireland Ambulance Service has tonight been forced to declare a major incident to maintain a safe level of ambulance cover throughout the planned period of industrial action on Friday 13 March.

An already precarious position following agreement with trade unions has deteriorated to a situation where levels of cover are critical from midnight tonight.

NIAS has exhausted all alternative contingency options and lives would be at risk if we allowed the situation to deteriorate further. The Trust would expect staff to report for duty in response to this major incident in line with protocols agreed with trade union representatives.