21/05/2008

Police Vote For Right To Strike

Police officers in Northern Ireland would follow the lead of fellow officers in England and Wales over possible strike action on pay.

As a row over the way police officer's back pay is being handled escalates, officers in England and Wales have now voted, by a big majority, to lobby the Westminster government for the right to strike - and NI police officers could well follow the lead, leaving only Scotland out of the potential industrial action.

Of those in England and Wales who voted, 93% wanted independent Police Arbitration Tribunal decisions to be made binding on all parties - including the Government.

And in the absence of such binding arbitration, 86% said the Police Federation should lobby for officers to be allowed "full industrial rights".

The vote followed a dispute over a 2.5% pay rise to be awarded in stages, which reduced the overall increase to 1.9%.

The result of the ballot was announced at the Police Federation's conference in Bournemouth yesterday after ballot papers were sent to 140,000 police constables, sergeants and inspectors, and 60,572 of them voted - a turnout of 43%.

Meanwhile, an 'informal survey' of 9,000 members of the representative body in Northern Ireland, the NI Police Federation, produced similar results on a "satisfactory turnout".

All the police are currently banned from going on strike or taking other industrial action, and any such action is a criminal offence.

There was less anger about pay levels in Scotland as police officers there had their 2007-8 pay rise backdated to September 2007 giving them the full benefit of the 2.5% increase.

At their own conference, members of the Scottish Police Federation rejected the right to demand full strike action but voted narrowly in favour of seeking other industrial rights.

But, colleagues in other parts of the UK had their increase backdated only to December and are hopping mad.

Paul McKeever, Chairman of the Federation's Sergeants' Committee, told delegates Bournemouth yesterday that the prime minister had "lost the trust and respect of the police service in the United Kingdom".

He said: "Gordon Brown must know that as police officers we can smell unfairness a mile away and unfortunately there is an awful stench about his behaviour."

In January, officers decided to seek the views of their colleagues following a mass rally in London.

More than 20,000 officers marched on Westminster following Home Secretary Jacqui Smith's pay decision.

Police officers were then asked whether they should lobby for the right to strike - in addition to other industrial rights - if ministers failed to abide with pay arbitration deals.

Work and Pensions Secretary John Hutton, whose remit includes industrial relations, said he believed it was unlikely that police officers would strike.

"I don't think there's a police officer in the country who wants to strike and let's hope we never get anywhere near to that position," he said.

But the Shadow Home Secretary David Davis said the government had been "dishonourable" in its behaviour towards the police.

The Conservatives have proposed an arbitration system which could only be overruled by the House of Commons, which Mr Davis said would be "fair, transparent and serve the public interest".

See: Trust Lost Over Police Pay

(BMcC)

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