SERVICES across Northern Ireland face serious disruption tomorrow as tens of thousands of public sector workers are due to go on a one-day strike over pay.
Among them road gritters belonging to two unions are set to begin a week-long strike just as a cold snap sets in across the nation.
Northern Ireland woke to a blanket of snow and ice this morning, which saw schools and roads closed.
A yellow weather warning was in place until 11am, with road users urged to exercise increased caution when driving.
The cold weather is set to continue this week, just as the strike gets underway, with residents warned to take extra care or to avoid travel entirely while services are disrupted.
“With cold weather being forecast for this week, the industrial action will cause disruption to our winter gritting service,” the Department for Infrastructure (DFI) said in a statement.
“If the current weather warnings remain in place, we would advise people to avoid travel, if possible, on Thursday, January 18,” they added.
“Where people need to travel, drivers and other road users will need to take particular care on Thursday and Friday given the potential for icy conditions and ongoing disruption to gritting,” they advised.
Nurses, teachers and civil servants are among the thousands expected to join the strike tomorrow, calling for pay rises across the public sector.
It comes after the ongoing political deadlock in the North has meant no working Executive has been in place in 2022.
More than 5,000 members of the GMB union will be among those striking, GMB Senior Organiser, Alan Perry has confirmed.
“GMB members have simply had enough,” he explained.
“They will not be used as political pawns in a process that would see the return of the Northern Ireland Executive.
“The Secretary of State made it clear that money is there; he must do the honourable thing and make it available now to address the concerns of members who desperately need it.”
Some 8,000 public sector workers from the Unite union will also join the action.
The union’s membership includes more than 4,000 health and social care workers, 2,300 bus and rail workers, 800 education authority workers as well as members in the roads service, forestry service, rivers agency, ferry services and PSNI.
In a statement Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “This will be an unprecedented demonstration of the power of workers in Northern Ireland.
“For almost two years, the absence of a functioning Stormont Executive has led to growing paralysis and crisis across public sector services.
“This situation has been made worse by a secretary of state for Northern Ireland who has sought to leverage the crisis in the current negotiations through imposing a punishing budgetary settlement.
“Unite will not allow the livelihoods of workers and the funding of public services to be used as a bargaining chip by this government.”
The DFI has outlined the services that will be most seriously disrupted tomorrow.
They include winter gritting, serious infrastructure repair, incident response, clean-up operations – such as oil spills and unexpected debris, MOT services, driving tests and response to flood emergencies.
The Strangford Ferry service, which sails between Portaferry and Strangford in County Down every day of the year, except Christmas Day, will also be out of action tomorrow due to the strikes.
“Where possible, contingency plans are being put in place, but it is expected that there will be widespread disruption on Thursday,” a DFI spokesperson said.
“The work done by the Department’s staff is a constant, vital but often unseen aspect of the day-to-day functioning of society and its value becomes very visible when it is not available, particularly on the road network,” they added.
“Without people to deliver these essential services, there is limited mitigation possible to preserve the normal protection to road users.”
While the bulk of the strike action takes place over 24 hours from 12.01 am tomorrow, road gritters from the Unite and GMB unions will continue to strike until January 24.