By Brian Booth
The management of the Northern Ireland Civil Service (NICS) is attempting to severely curtail the activity of workplace representatives of NIPSA, the largest public sector union in the North. In a move that mirrors the Tory attacks on the PCS union in Britain, the NICS is attacking the facility time of union representatives which allows them to represent their members effectively, telling them they must do this work on their own time. Trade union rights are fundamental human rights and have been hard won over many years. This action against NIPSA is the most serious attack on trade union democracy that we have witnessed here in recent years and the fact that it is taking place at a time when the Assembly is in suspension must call into question the actions of senior civil servants.
NIPSA has, for many years, been one of the most vocal unions in opposing the austerity agenda. It has been critical of both the Stormont House and Fresh Start agreements, through which the DUP and Sinn Féin promised to make up to 20,000 public sector workers redundant. Already, more than three thousand civil service jobs lost and thousands of other permanent jobs have disappeared across education and the community and voluntary sectors. These cuts are having a devastating effect on services. It is no accident that the union that has been to the fore in opposing austerity and the introduction of ‘welfare reform’ is now facing attacks which can only be regarded as an attempt to silence dissent.
But NIPSA is fighting back. The Irish Congress of Trade Unions along with NIPSA’s General Council and both the Civil Service and Public Officers Group Executive Committees have pledged their support. But if these attacks are to be defeated, NIPSA must mobilise its membership in opposition to this attack and it is absolutely essential that other trade unions rally to support.