The community sector is being urged to sit up and take action to prevent it being seen as an easy target by both the Assembly and Westminster when the budget cuts are finalised.
The call came at a public meeting in Omagh on Thursday night (17th February) organised by trade union SIPTU, which addressed how vulnerable the community sector will be to the budget cuts.
The crowd was made up of a cross section of local councillors, community group and resident association representatives from the Omagh area.
All present were encouraged to go back and inform their various communities that cuts are inevitable and with only seven per cent of the community and voluntary sector in a trade union, they will have no voice when it comes to fighting for the retention of vital services like there is for health and education.
Barry McColgan, both a member of SIPTU and Strathroy Community Association chaired the meeting. He stressed how essential it is to bring the skills and experience of the trade unions and community sector workers together to prevent them being a target for cuts.
SIPTU representative Teri Cregan said,
“The community sector workers contribute 100 times more to the economy than they can if they are unemployed. That would be a gross waste of skills and resources. You must recognise the power you have. If you sit back they will roll over you. Those with the least resistance will suffer the most. The crying child gets the bottle. It is a time to get angry and show your objections to cuts and threats to your jobs.”
She continued by highlighting a study that predicts the current level of unemployment in the north of 58,000 is set to rise to 70,000 in the next 18 months.
Ms Cregan also highlighted the serious situation caused by the rising prices of commodities coupled with the pay freeze experienced by most workers.
Speaking from the audience Anton McCabe representating Omagh Trades Union Council and the Kevlin Residents Association said at times community workers can feel “blackmailed” to go above and beyond the call of duty, an action which would be unacceptable if they had a capitalist employer.
“These people are delivering vital services and are reluctant to come forward to be unionised feeling they owe the community, forgetting they owe themselves.”
Highlighting the point, Mickey Kelly from Strathroy Community Association explained that while most public sector workers were tucking into their Christmas dinner on their holidays it was community and voluntary sector who were responding to the harsh winter weather, clearing snow and ensuring vulnerable people were warm and safe.”