Council workers who went above and beyond during the Covid-19 lockdown could benefit from a special “recognition payment”.
DUP Councillor Lavelle McIlwrath made a formal proposal for the cash reward which he said would benefit “some of the lowest paid workers” in the council.
He did so after saying there were people living in his own electoral area who worked for another council and they had already benefitted from such a payment.
Councillor McIlwrath expressed “disappointment” that a paper had not been brought to Monday night’s remote meeting of Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council.
He said recognition had previously been called for and he had expected that something would have been brought forward for consideration by now.
Councillor McIlwrath said he was aware of at least one other council which had brought forward an “appreciation payment” for the extraordinary work of staff “during the worst times of the pandemic”.
He asked what plans were “afoot to recognise those who demonstrated commitment” during Covid-19.
Strategic Director of Place Olga Murtagh said they were “currently exploring and researching how we can recognise staff who have performed tremendous duties” during the pandemic. This, she said, included everyone from those on the frontline to those involved in community and business response.
She said the matter could be brought back to the recovery working group.
Councillor McIlwrath said he was disappointed and proposed that something be brought back “as soon as possible”.
He made a formal proposal that something be brought that would “incorporate a recognition payment” for invaluable commitment.
“There’s no point in us standing out clapping these folk if we’re not prepared to recognise them,” he said. “They are some of the lowest paid in the council.”
Councillor McIlwrath said they should not be looking at a “form of words” but a financial lift.
“If our neighbouring councils can do it then I think ABC has to follow suit,” he added.
Alderman Stephen Moutray seconded the proposal and said he hoped it would be “done in a speedy form” as “some other councils have already moved on this”.
He said: “Folk out there deserve recognition for going the second mile over a very difficult period.”
DUP Councillor Darryn Causby said he would have assumed this would have been dealt with “fairly prudently and quickly”.
He said the council ran the risk if they did not do something of showing “very uneven treatment of staff”.
Councillor Causby said there were some who had been given short working hours and others who worked longer hours and this could represent inadvertently different standards and treatment.
He said some were working up to 20 hours a week more and getting the same pay.
“It just doesn’t stack up,” he added, before also cautioning that the council wanted to try and avoid a resentment across council staff.
Independent Unionist Councillor Paul Berry praised the staff who had “worked exceptionally hard” throughout the pandemic.
And while he told the Lord Mayor he meant no disrespect, he added: “The last thing the staff want is a Mayor’s reception being stuffed with sausage rolls!”
A paper on what form the recognition will now be brought back as a matter of urgency.
Commenting after members backed his proposal, Councillor McIlwrath said: “Over the last few months frontline staff at ABC Council have day and daily put themselves at great risk during the Covid-19 crisis in providing a vital and uninterrupted service to ratepayers.
“Alongside NHS and care workers, blue light services and many others, Council staff have lifted bins, cleaned streets, distributed meal packs and carried out a host of other key and essential services when most of us were in lockdown.
“Much of this work went unnoticed yet it was vital.
“We have to remember that some staff even volunteered to move post and willingly put their shoulder to the plough and for that we should all be deeply grateful.
“Some of these employees have actually taken a significant pay reduction and it is absolutely appropriate that they be recognised. Therefore I am delighted that the proposal passed with unanimous support from the other parties.
“I now look forward to Council officers bringing forward an urgent report which will outline in detail an appropriate one-off payment that reflects this important contribution as well as the gratitude of the local community.”