Union chiefs have warned against expectations of an early settlement to civil service strike action in Northern Ireland.
New talks opened in east Belfast today in a bid to end the industrial action which has disrupted several British government departments.
John Corey, general secretary of the Northern Ireland Public Service Alliance claimed: “Until we have engaged in actual negotiations, it is too early to say if there will be any change to our position on current strike action.”
It is the first time since mid-March the union has held major face to face talks with senior civil service to try to end the dispute which has halted industrial and fair employment tribunals, delayed MOT and driving tests and disrupted the work of the Child Support, Social Security and Labour Relations agencies.
The industrial action which has lasted almost 30 weeks is over the British government’s failure to give staff a cost-of-living allowance increase since April last year.
Stormont finance and personnel minister Ian Pearson and his senior management have been heavily criticised over their handling of the affair, which has also held up some planning applications.
Mr Pearson said: “It is my hope that the negotiations can be conducted in a positive atmosphere, and that they will lead to a speedy conclusion, to the satisfaction of both parties.”
At any one time since December, up to 500 civil servants have been out on strike. Meat inspections, payments of subsidies and grants to farmers and teachers’ salaries have also been affected by stoppages.
Mr Corey claimed the start of renewed talks followed new commitments by Mr Pearson’s office to resolve the dispute by intensive and urgent negotiations and that a letter they had received had been more helpful.
Mr Corey said: “We will be doing our utmost to negotiate a resolution of this dispute which is fair and acceptable to civil service staff.”