Council denies it could have done more to avert strike

THE Chief Executive of Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council has denied claims the local authority could do more to bring an end to a strike causing “significant disruption” to council services.

Speaking at a special meeting of the council, held to discuss the impact of Unite the Union’s industrial action on its services, the Chief Executive of Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council, Roger Wilson, said no requests or demands had been put to him by Unite the Union that could bring an end to the dispute.

The question was put directly to the council’s supremo by Councillor Darryn Causby who sought assurances the local authority is doing all it can to mitigate against strike action.

“Based on the information we received at party leaders meeting 10 days ago I was concerned,” said Cllr Causby.

“I felt at that stage we were not doing, as a council, what we believed was absolutely everything we could to try and mitigate against strike action and that is why this meeting was called.

“There were reports a Unite official had insisted denials by Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council that it has no power over staff pay structures which could avert the forthcoming strike are not true.

“That was quoted, but Chief Executive, am I hearing you correctly when you say that when Unite the Union notified Council of the strike there was nothing put on the table for us to discuss or negotiate is that correct?

“Is that Council’s position?”

In response to this question, Council’s Chief Executive, Roger Wilson answered definitively, telling the chamber: “That is the position, the pay award is agreed and negotiated nationally.

“As far as I am concerned I have not seen any bid that has come from Unite the Union with regard to the current dispute.”

There was a row earlier in the meeting, with Sinn Fein withdrawing, when it was agreed to conduct part of its business in public.

The meeting, which took place at noon on Monday April 25, was originally set to take place behind closed doors and deal with the impact industrial action by members of Unite the Union will have on council’s services.

However, when the Lord Mayor, Alderman Glenn Barr sought a proposer and seconder to move the meeting away from the public’s gaze, Councillor Darryn Causby said his party would not support doing so straight away and proposed the meeting continue in public.

His proposal was eventually supported by 18 members in the chamber and opposed by 11.

Following this decision, Sinn Fein group leader, Councillor Liam Mackle told the chamber his party colleagues would be taking no further part in the meeting.

Setting out his proposal to continue the meeting in public, Cllr Causby said he and his DUP party colleagues believed some of the items up for discussion should be discussed in public.

The proposal was seconded by his party colleague, Alderman Stephen Moutray who said the strike will impact on the borough’s ratepayers and claimed they need to be informed of what the outcomes will be.

On advice from council’s solicitor, the Lord Mayor said he was of the view the conversation should take place in confidential business as information relating to the financial or business affairs of any particular person, information in connection to labour relations matter and information pertaining to legal professional privilege could be discussed.

“It is in the public interest to maintain exceptions to the above and this outweighs the public interest in discussing the information in open session,” he said.

With Cllr Causby’s proposal on the floor, Cllr Mackle said he would oppose it and so the proposal was put to a vote.

“To me the bit that is vitally important and I would caution members going against is the very straight legal advice we have obtained,” said Cllr Mackle.

“Information about service delivery can all be delivered to the public via our communications department and it will be.

“Given the issues that are potentially going to come up I think it is important we follow the legal advice and stay in confidential.”

UUP group leader, Alderman Jim Speers said he “found it difficult” to understand how, if the meeting went in and out of confidential business, it could be run without issue.

“I have no issue with the matter being in public but when you get legal opinion I am of the belief it is wise to follow it,” he said.

SDLP group leader, Councillor Thomas O’Hanlon said he was of the opinion this should be held in the “open forum” to allow residents to hear the discussion and reminded the chamber “it is important our staff see we respect them and value their contribution”.

However, he went on to say he would accept the legal opinion to discuss the matter in confidential.

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