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Electoral Office staff to strike today over Belfast centralisation plan

NIPSA members are striking today (Friday) as they they aim to protect local services currently provided by Electoral Office across Northern Ireland.

Under Management plans, electoral offices in Ballymena, Banbridge, Derry/Londonderry, Newtownabbey, Newtownards and Omagh will close and services such as electoral ID Cards and voter registration will be centralised into Belfast.

Speaking about the action, Dooley Harte, NIPSA Official stated: “NIPSA members working in regional electoral offices are on strike today to protect electoral services to the public.  As a result of cuts to its budget, the Chief Electoral Officer seems hell-bent on closing offices regardless of impact on jobs and services.  We have now spent two days at Labour Relations Agency seeking a fair negotiated settlement but Management intransigence has meant strike action is the only course of action left to our members.

“NIPSA has been pushing for the option of co-location with councils as a possible solution to the dispute and understands that the Chief Executive of Mid & East Antrim Council has offered to house the staff from the Electoral Office in the Ballymena council office for up to 12 months but that the Chief Electoral Officer has refused this offer and will close the Ballymena office on 31 October transferring staff to Newtownabbey. This makes no sense and highlights the obstinacy of management on this matter.”

NIPSA has confirmed that it has received significant support from all political parties with party leaders, MPs and MLAs expressing support for retention of regional electoral services.  A motion has also been lodged at NI Assembly to debate the retention of regional services.

Mr Harte continued: “NIPSA has put forward a reasonable proposal to resolve this dispute that would put back a planned public consultation by six months.  This window would allow for the introduction and assessment of new IT as well as a full review of all options to deliver regional services.  This offer has been refused by Management.”

Mr Harte confirmed that the EU Referendum could be at risk by industrial action stating: “We call on Management to properly engage with NIPSA to resolve this dispute before the EU Referendum on 23 June is seriously affected.  Our members want to deliver a successful referendum but if strike action continues, this process will be put at risk by Management’s failure to properly engage and reach a negotiated settlement.”

Newry and Armagh Sinn Fein MP Mickey Brady has expressed his support for the workers.

He said: “Local electoral offices do not fall under the control of the Assembly, so the decision taken by the Electoral Office to close them is not democratic or accountable to locally elected public representatives.

“Local electoral offices play a key role in providing information to the public on registration and on postal and proxy votes as well as organising local count centres and polling stations.

“Therefore I back NIPSA workers in their proposed action to protect jobs and services in rural areas.”

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