A call to the Northern Ireland Secretary of State to immediately release money for cost-of-living pay rises was met with resounding support.

Joe Fee, a local representative of the Communication Workers Union (CWU), proposed the motion when he took to the platform at a mass rally in support of striking workers last week.

Mr. Fee, who is also a delegate to the Fermanagh Council of Trade Unions, spoke with conviction as he announced that workers were not going to accept “being a pawn in the game of chess” by self-appointed “King”, Christ-Heaton Harris.

The supposed checkmate? To get politicians back into Stormont. But Mr. Fee emphasised that this was a game that had no winners.

Commending fellow strikers, which included BT Group employees as well as a number of private companies, Mr. Fee said: “It is vital that we send a strong message to the Secretary of State Chris Heaton-Harris that workers are not going to accept being a pawn in the game of chess he is playing with the political parties at Stormont.”

A motion calling Heaton-Harris to action, was met with a sea of raised hands and a chorus of support.

“Up the workers”, Mr. Fee then exclaimed, encapsulating the spirit of one of the biggest strikes the town of Enniskillen, and indeed Northern Ireland, had ever seen.

While on the platform, Mr. Fee also took aim at criticism towards last week’s strikes, with Unions reported to be in a “militant mood”, and that strike action was set to “devastate private and public sectors”.

“Let me say this, there is nothing militant in workers looking to be paid fairly,” he said.

“The public sector hasn’t been devastated due to workers looking for pay rises.

“In fact, it has been devastated by 14 years of uncaring Conservative Government austerity – which has seen public sector workers in Northern Ireland being paid less than their counterparts across the water.”

He added: “It’s not unusual for governments and the media to try and play the public and private sectors off against each other – usually trying to demonise the public sector. “

And blasting Heaton-Harris’s supposed game of chess, Mr. Fee said: “We won’t fall for those games. It doesn’t matter if you are in the public or private sector – the reality is you are a worker.”

The local trade union rep also blasted a lack of reward for efforts made during the Covid-19 pandemic, almost four years ago.

Included among a list of pandemic-era key workers were utilities and communication workers, Mr. Fee explained, yet despite “helping to keep services and the economy ticking over”, no recognition had been given.

“Have we been rewarded? – No we haven’t! - you and us have had to fight and take industrial action in order to obtain fair pay rises.”

But Mr. Fee also told striking workers to take heart in pay rises obtained by workers within BT Group last year, which came as a result of action headed by the Communication Workers Union.

“We said from the outset that there was money available to resolve that dispute. After eight days of industrial action – a fair agreement was reached.

“In your case, it is clear that the Secretary of State has the money to resolve your dispute and this issue could be sorted now!”