A TRADE union has slammed claims from the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) that increased pay for Fermanagh’s school workers is “a devolved matter”.
Members of the Unite who are employed by the Education Authority last week went on a seven-day strike to protest against what the union claim is “a failure to implement a review that would have led to significant increases in pay”.
Unite cite the recent budget put forward by Secretary of State, Chris Heaton-Harris, that has seen a number of cuts implemented that has in turn put the brakes on any increase in pay for members who work for the EA as bus drivers and classroom assistants amongst others.
The Herald asked the NIO Office for a comment on the budget affecting any pay rise with a spokeswoman saying: “Education is a devolved matter. The Secretary of State is deeply disappointed to have had to set a Budget for Northern Ireland in the absence of an Executive.
“A locally elected, accountable and effective devolved government is the right way to govern Northern Ireland and to address the challenges its public services face.
“It will be for the relevant NI department to make final decisions on pay policies.”
Former Councillor and current Unite Campaigns & Communications co-ordinator for the North, Donal O’Cofaigh, strongly refutes the “devolved matter” claim from the NIO.
He said: “To say it’s a ‘devolved matter’ even though the Secretary of State is the one setting the budget is completely dishonest.
“The reality is that Chris Heaton-Harris has set a budget which is genuinely punishing, punitive and the Permanent Secretary of the Department for Education actually refused to implement some of it.
“The workers are out here for seven days to seek what they are entitled to – which is a pay-grading review which they had gone into as a substitute for a pay increase last year.
“The workers went into this process and achieved consensus with the Education Authority but the Department is now telling them that they don’t have the money to pay an increase.”
While many employees have come out on strike, a handful of EA bus drivers are not observing the action.
“It’s always disappointing when people cross the picket line,” added O’Cofaigh, “and I encourage workers not to do so as by standing together, we become stronger.
“What we need to do here is offer a united front against the punishing cuts that have been enforced by the Secretary of State.
“If we are successful, then those who didn’t join the strike will benefit as well and will also show them that it is possible to force a u-turn from the Secretary of State.”
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