Northern Ireland, where public sector spending represents almost three-quarters of the region’s GDP, faces the worst cuts in 80 years.
The 2015-2016 budget, which follows four straight years of austerity, entails slashing £1.3bn in funding in the next four years – a budget which public sector workers have unequivocally rejected.
Unite members working for Translink, Education and Library Boards, Road Service, NI Fire and Rescue Service and the Housing Executive will join thousands of other NI public sector workers in strike action against these cuts on Friday, March 13.
The results of each ballot for strike action showed overwhelming support for the strike – Education and Library Boards members voted more than 80 per cent in favour and NI Fire and Rescue Service as well the Industrial Civil Service members voting about 75 per cent in favour each.
Unite regional secretary Jimmy Kelly congratulated the union’s members for their determination to defend public services against the Stormont Austerity budget and urged the public to demonstrate their support for public services.
“Without standing up to this, we can expect another four years of even more punishing austerity budgets,” he said. “The scale of these cuts will decimate our public health, education and transport services all of which are already pushed to breaking point.”
Kelly pointed to the fact that only a few days ago Translink chief executive David Strahan, who is responsible for all bus and rail services in Northern Ireland, warned that the company would collapse if the cuts go forward.
Kelly explained that the cuts will be even more devastating as the Northern Ireland Assembly parties attempt to seek tax varying powers to make the region a global tax haven.
“The very lowest estimates suggest that this will force more than £325 million in even deeper cuts to public services funding,” he said.
“Public sector workers and those dependent on public services cannot be expected to pay the price for a policy to facilitate a global tax-dodging corporate elite.”
Kelly argued that the reasons for the new tax policy are fundamentally flawed.
“Study after study has shown that large investors are attracted more by labour force skills and education, by the quality of infrastructural provision and public services than by corporate tax giveaways,” he said. “Yet these are the very things which will be devastated by the Executive’s policy of brutal austerity cuts.”
Even the usually pro-corporate Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS) questioned in a recent report whether dramatically reducing tax rates in Northern Ireland would outweigh the unprecedented cuts to public services.
Kelly put forward what he called “an alternative vision” to the cuts.
“Instead of policies which seek to make the most vulnerable pay for a crisis they didn’t cause, Unite is calling for a growth strategy underpinned by public investment and strong public services,” he said. “We want to rebalance our economy through growth not through austerity.”
Kelly said Friday’s full-day strike may be followed by further action before the general election in May.
“I urge members of the public to show their support for workers striking to defend funding for hospital wards, schools, bus and rail services, roads maintenance and further and higher education,” Kelly concluded.
Stay tuned on UNITElive for the latest on the strike.