Since the decision by the DUP and Sinn Féin to give the Tories power to implement their ‘welfare reform’ agenda in Northern Ireland, it has been announced that three Jobs & Benefits Offices in Cookstown, Ballynahinch and Newcastle are threatened with closure. This has created anger and unease amongst staff further afield. Staff are prepared to defend jobs and services, with the support of local communities and their trade union, NIPSA.
In Mid-Ulster, a packed meeting was held in the Bridewell, Magherafelt, chaired by NIPSA and attended by staff from Magherafelt, Cookstown and Dungannon offices. Representatives from the main parties were challenged and reminded that they could change direction if they had the will. The staff agreed an action plan and it was accepted that a joined-up response to the public consultations on the 3 office closures would be required.
It was noted that the proposed closures are the result of a political decision and did not meet equality screening or rural proofing requirements, did not allow for work-life balance for staff, would particularly adversely affect the mainly female workforce, and severely worsen the service to claimants. A robust defence by NIPSA, including legal action, is required to ensure these proposals do not go ahead.