In a rallying call to gathered workers last Thursday, local trade unionist, Sally Rees said: “We will not be silent. We will not ignored.”

These were the determined words of local trade unionist, spoken to hundreds of workers who had marched in solidarity through Enniskillen.

Undoubtedly, those involved will continue to march; “onward to fair pay! Onward to a better future!”, Sally continued , her words met with claps and cheers from a crowd undeterred by the bitter cold.

Despite plummeting temperatures, spirits were high at the demonstration which saw almost 1,000 people marching from the ‘Round O’ to The Diamond.

Teachers stood side by side in solarity with road workers, bus drivers, teachers, nurses, staff, and civil servants, marching in a shared sense of unity that is all too rare in today’s society.

Taking to the platform, Sally introduced herself with her professional titles; a local teacher, NASUWT member, and member of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions NI Committee, and then simply as “a worker from Fermanagh”..

Regardless of profession, when it stripped back every workers aim is the same; fair pay for a fair days work; protection against the cost of living, and a little recognition. Unfortunately, these basic needs have been too often denied - but these are cold realities that Union representatives, such as Sally, aren’t prepared to accept without a fight.

“We are here to send a loud message to Chris Heaton-Harris and the Tory Government that they must stop using public sector workers as a political tool to get the DUP back into government,” Sally said. “It is not working!”

The party’s freeze on power-sharing has lasted almost two years, and according to Sally, “has done nothing for local people”.

‘Political pawns’

NI Secretary of State, Chris Heaton Harris, was also in the firing line on Thursday, with union reps agreeing that workers are being used as “political pawns”.

A teacher of almost 30 years, Sally knows all too well the profound changes that have taken place in education. Ravaged by cuts, increased workloads and dwindling budgets, Sally expressed her dismay at what she branded “a lack of respect” for educators.

“I have been teaching for 28 years and every year has seen an increase in our workload, yet no increase in our pay,” she said. “We have had to endure rising costs of living, real terms pay cuts, increased class sizes, and budget cuts across education that impact the most vulnerable in our society.

“All whilst suffering the indignity of being the lowest paid teachers in these islands, and a country that does not value its education system does not value its future! Where is the dignity and respect for our teachers? We demand fair pay. We demand an education system that values all of its staff and its young people, especially the most vulnerable.”

The recent industrial action is the fourth time teachers have went on strike since February. Despite this, educators have gone without a pay rise in three years, and on Thursday representatives from teaching unions warned of a continuing “brain drain” of the county’s best and brightest young teachers.

“Teachers have now gone three years without any pay increase,” Sally said. “In further education the pay situation is worse again. How can it be that a lecturer in a Further Education College is paid much less than a teacher in a school for doing the same job?”

“We are here today to fight for a better deal for all public sector workers.”

The rally in Enniskillen was just one of many that took place across Northern Ireland, with locations including Omagh, Magherafelt and Londonderry seeing demonstrations. In Northern Ireland as a whole, an estimated 150,000 took part.

“This is the biggest strike in a generation,” Sally said. “And why? Because we have been failed by our political leadership again and again and again!


“We fully understand that there are issues arising from Brexit that are problematic for unionism. But these issues must be addressed within the agreed political framework.

“This breakdown of government - along with all the others before it - has done nothing for working people.

“Public sector pay has fallen massively under almost 14 years of Tory rule in Westminster – but no Northern Ireland politician should compound the crisis.”

Sally also commended the solidarity on display during the day of strike action, especially from teaching unions. The Northern Ireland Teachers’ Council (NITC), an umbrella group representing the main unions, has said that three further strike days are being planned during the spring term this year.

“When unions work together, everyone benefits,” Sally commented, referencing the collective powers of unions standing together.

“The solidarity shown by all teacher unions over the course of this dispute has made us all stronger.”

She also voiced her support for other workers outside her own profession, whom she described as “the glue that holds society together.”

“This rally is about more than just my union’s members,” she said. “I want to pay tribute to all public sector workers. And I say to our local politicians have a look around you at the faces of the workers on strike here today.

“These are the people who empty your bins, grit your roads, bring your children to school, feed and care for them, and look after your loved ones in times of crisis.

“They are the glue that binds our society together. Where is the dignity and respect for them?”

The local union representative concluded with a call to action, and a “clear message” to those in power that workers will “not be ignored”.

“So let our message be clear. We will not be silent. We will not be ignored,” she said.

“We will stand together, shoulder to shoulder, prepared to call out those who stand in our way and prepared to fight again and again until we achieve a better deal for all workers.

“We demand better. We deserve better. We deserve fair pay. We deserve a chance to thrive, not just survive.

“All our futures depend on it.”

See also: Opinion piece about the strikes by Sally Rees on Page 31.