Maintenance workers for the Northern Ireland Housing Executive (NIHE) have entered their sixth month of strike action in their battle for an above-inflation pay increase.
In January the workers were offered a totally inadequate one-off payment of £1,000 for those earning up to £32,000 and £500 to those on higher grades, as well as a one pay point uplift for workers on the lowest wages. This would have left a majority of workers facing a real term pay cut and was overwhelmingly rejected by 99.5% of the striking workers (on a turnout of 93.4%).
This offer was particularly insulting to the workers who keep the Housing Executive afloat and worked tirelessly and thanklessly throughout the coronavirus pandemic, given that NIHE has reserves of some £300 million!
Recently NIHE announced a 7% increase in rents, which will only pile more pressure upon households already faced with the cost of living crisis. This will only force more people into poverty and homelessness.
The argument of NIHE is that rents must go up, but workers wages must go down. But while they are launching this attack on the standard of living of their staff, NIHE has paid private landlords more than £25 million in the last five years and continues to outsource contracts to private companies at an increased fee of some 20-30% while their own workers are paid considerably less for the same work. No wonder so many staff are leaving for the private sector, which will only result in the stripping down of this vital public service.
The striking NIHE workers have shown inspiring resolve in their strike. It is necessary to escalate the action in response to upper management’s inaction, including by coordinating strike action with other unions that organise workers in NIHE.
These workers stood with health and education workers at the Workers Demand Better rally at city hall on a day of coordinated strike action. This must be built on with further coordinated action, bringing together striking workers across all sectors. This is how we can build the strongest strike action to win an inflation-busting pay rise and to fight creeping privatisation.