Workers enter their fifteen week of strike action for improved pay as LRA-mediated talks are due to commence this week

Striking housing workers at NIHE have linked up with tenants associations and residents groups across the three housing regions impacted by the ongoing industrial dispute which is now entering its fifteenth week.

The pay dispute is in relation to the 2021-2022 year and housing workers are seeking two pay grade increases and a cost of living payment. At present workers have had a 1.75 percent increase for that year imposed after it was recommended by the National Joint Council.

Unite Regional Officer Michael Keenan confirmed that his union’s members had secured strong support from tenants groups who were bearing the brunt of the unresolved strike.

“Representatives from the Falls Residents Association confirm that they are dealing with tenants unable to move into properties allocated to them some months ago and report growing numbers of void properties lying idle with no date for renovation and allocation. They are telling me that tenants are unable to heat their homes because essential repairs remain undone.

“The Lower Oldpark Community Association have told us that since the start of the industrial action, tenants have had no support with Urgent category repairs including electrical fittings, leaks in WC flush pipes, waste pipes and radiator, sewer and drain blockages and major water penetration in external windows and doors. They are warning that even when management move to address the pay claim of workers, a backlog of hundreds of repair jobs will remain in north Belfast.

“Unite’s members have been left with no alternative but to continue their strike as NIHE have refused to offer anything above the insulting 1.75 percent that has been imposed. NIHE must now make an improved pay offer to end this dispute and the impact it is having on tenants.”

Veronica, a member of Taghnevan Community Development Association in Lurgan, reported the huge human impact that the crisis in social housing maintenance is having on tenants in her area:

“This morning I took a call from a tenant who reported water coming down through her ceiling but was unable to get anyone to answer her calls from the Housing Executive. It seems the majority of tenants have mounting issues of concern which are just not being addressed. I myself have an outside light that won’t switch off and I’m paying for that extra electricity – while my curtains are moving while the windows are closed. Residents are asking how can they afford to heat their home. There is a growing mood among tenants that we should just stop paying rent – what are we paying for?

“We know that this situation has arisen because the Housing Executive won’t pay the workers a cost of living increase. That’s a disgrace – why are tenants being made to suffer because the Housing Executive won’t pay their workers properly?”

Gino Fagan of Monbrief Residents Association, highlighted impact the social housing maintenance crisis was having on residents in his estate:

“In our tower blocks, the outside lights are only working for an hour and a half a day. You have to use the light on your mobile phone to find your car. It’s just not safe – especially for older residents. They were meant to be installing insulation cladding on our houses but the contractors just seem to have disappeared. Residents are left wondering what are we paying rent for? Are we the acceptable collateral damage for Housing Executive’s policy of not paying their workers a fair wage? It’s just not acceptable.”

Unite the union understands that almost 280 disabled tenants are waiting for needed housing adaptations and that almost 240 housing units remain empty because the needed ‘change of tenancy’ work has not been completed. In total, there are almost 2,800 outstanding repair and improvement jobs outstanding in the three regions impacted by the strike. The crisis in social housing has been exacerbated by the withdrawal of eleven private sector suppliers from outsourced maintenance contracts.

Labour Relations Agency mediated talks between the trade unions and NIHE are now due to commence this week while workers in Belfast, Craigavon, Coleraine and Derry/L’Derry maintain their strike action.