06/02/2004

Government offices hit by strike action

Strike action by civil service union members in an ongoing dispute over pay has been condemned by government who have called for staff to return to work.

Many government offices will remain closed today as industrial action by up to 20,000 Northern Ireland civil servants forced many offices to be shut down.

The action is the latest phase in a campaign of strikes aimed at pushing the government into improving pay despite an imposed pay package which will add 3.67% to the wage bill of the Northern Ireland Civil Service.

However, union representatives for the workers say the package was already part of a pre-agreed increment and took no account of the rise in the cost of living.

But, a spokesperson for the Department for Social Development (DSD) called on the trade union, NIPSA, to call off the strike.

"These walkouts are illegal forms of industrial action and have been carried out without prior notice to the Department," the spokesperson said.

"They only serve to reduce or withdraw the services to some of the most vulnerable people in society. Such industrial action could also have an impact on jobs involving the Social Security Agency and Child Support Agency providing services to other Government Departments in Great Britain.

"If continued, this could ultimately have an adverse affect on the ability of Northern Ireland to retain and attract such work in the future," the spokesperson added.

NIPSA was confident that the one-day strike would force the closure of Social Security Offices, Motor Tax and Vehicle Licensing Offices and Driving Test Centres. The work of other departments will almost certainly be affected.

Strabane Social Security Office and the Office of Industrial Tribunals have already been closed for extended periods by the strike.

Further action planned for next week is likely to affect the work of the Veterinary and Meat Inspection staff resulting in the closure of meat plants.

(MB/SP)

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