Since the start of April, upwards of 450 workers in Northern Ireland’s community and voluntary sector have been informed they are to lose their jobs. These cuts are the direct out-workings of the Stormont House Agreement, signed by all the Assembly Executive parties, and the budget. Some promised there would be no compulsory redundancies or loss of front line services. It is now clear that this promise was not extended to those in the community and voluntary sector. Workers have lost their jobs, with little or no compensation and services and skills have been lost to communities.
The single largest loss of jobs and services has been at NIACRO, an organisation which seeks to reduce the impact of crime on communities and aids in the rehabilitation of offenders, where they have lost 35 of 100 members of staff. Across the North, services for women, community relations, children and families, justice and the arts are under threat.
One organisation which is a case in point, in terms of both who cuts effect and how they can be opposed, is Ballynafeigh Community Development Association (BCDA). They have been devastated by cuts to welfare rights services, services for women and community relations in one of Belfast’s most long standing ‘shared neighbourhoods’. As a result of Stormont austerity, their long-term sustainability is now threatened. In response, BCDA mobilised the community, friends and supporters in opposition to the cuts, with a demonstration at Belfast City Hall on the 23rd of April and a shutdown on the 25th to allow staff to participate in a day of action involving white line pickets on the Ormeau Road.
If services in the community and voluntary sector are be defended this action must spread to other organisations and the communities they serve. There is an increasingly urgent need for trade union leaders to mobilise members in the community and voluntary sector. This needs to be linked up with the fight against austerity across the public sector and with private sector workers who are fighting to defend jobs and conditions.