Derry City Council today said the elected representatives initiated and approved the staff restructuring that has led to enforced redundancies and the threat of strike action.
And its chief executive, Sharon O’Connor rejected comments made by UUP councillor Mary Hamilton - the only councillor to voice support for those threatened with job losses - that councillors had been assured no compulsory redundancies would take place.
While all other councillors - apart from Mary Hamilton - have remained silent on the issue, the council also said it rejected trade union claims that proper consultation has not taken place.
In response to questions from the Londonderry Sentinel, a council spokesperson said it “takes issue with claims by NIPSA that it has not been consulted as part of this change management process”, adding: “NIPSA was instrumental throughout the change management process in providing advice and direction to its member and was invited to attend all consultation meetings with individual staff. The Council has responded to any questions raised by the union and is more than happy to facilitate any further meetings upon request.”
We also asked: Why are there now compulsory redundancies when promises were made that there would be no enforced redundancies?
The spokesperson for Derry City Council said: “Transforming Derry City Council process has been ongoing for a number of years and was first initiated at the request of elected members in an effort to improve services and deliver more effective public services. The process of management change has been implemented with the full support of all political parties within Derry City Council.”
Ms O’Connor said today that councillors had been told every effort would be made to avoid compulsory redundancies but there had never been a promise that there would be no compulsory redundancies.
The Sentinel yesterday asked for comments from the Mayor, Martin Reilly, but none have as yet been forthcoming, while we also attempted unsuccessfully to contact a number of councillors.
Up to 150 attended a protest outside the council’s offices yesterday as a staff committee held behind closed doors prepared to meet to discuss plans to rstructure the organisation. It deferred its decision until a special meeting could be held next week.
Only one councillor joined the protest - Mary Hamilton who told council staff she was disappointed that fellow councillors “will not support you”.
Mrs Hamilton spoke after receiving a round of applause for her stance in support of the workforce.
She said: “We were told there would be no compulsory redundancies but they have gone back on that. I will challenge that at today’s Staff Committee meeting.”
The protest heard that NIPSA members employed by Derry City Council yesterday voted unanimously to commence a statutory ballot to include strike action and action short of strike action following the decision by Council management to proceed with compulsory redundancies.
NIPSA organised the demonstration at Derry City Council offices, Strand Road, yesterday (Thursday) to highlight its opposition to compulsory redundancy.
The redundancy claims came on a day when the city, despite its position as UK City of Culture, was reeling from the latest disappointing unemployment figures that show the Derry City Council area as the worst economic blackspot in Northern Ireland.
In August, local unemployment rose by 0.4% compared to the same month in 2012. While the rise in the dole queue is relatively small, it was the busiest month in the culture calendar and the average unemployment rate showed a slight drop in Northern Ireland as a whole.
NIPSA HQ Official, Alan Law commented “NIPSA has been demanding that management withdraw the redundancy notices and embark on negotiations to resolve this dispute, a formal request was made to make a presentation to the Council’s Staff Committee but this was turned down by Town Clerk – Sharon O’Connor.
“We are calling on Councillors who have contacted NIPSA to voice their opposition to the redundancies to demand a stop to these plans.
“NIPSA has requested an assurance that there will be no more compulsory redundancies, however Ms O’Connor has refused to give this commitment”.
Eileen Webster told the protest that “compulsory redundancies are a line in the sand”.
She added that NIPSA would make this “a Northern Ireland wide issue” and “we will back you all the way in your struggle”.
He said the size of the protest showed the level of anger at the proposed redundancies and that, despite council assertions to the contrary, there had been no proper consultation on the issue.
Retired trade union official, Keith Cradden said he had always been “appalled” at the way councillors acted towards staff issues in the city, while they “pontificated” about redundancies in the private sector.
He called on councillors to “stop being hypocrites”.