More than 100 workers could be mobilised to clear snow and ice from the borough’s streets during periods of extreme winter weather.
As part of Newtownabbey Council’s Emergency Planning Procedures, employees are to be offered a one-off payment of £250 to undertake “emergency response” duties.
At Monday night’s Policy and Governance Committee meeting, members agreed that the financial incentive should be offered to encourage employees to commit to assist the council in responding to emergency situations, such as prolonged periods of severe wintry weather.
The meeting was informed that responding to such situations may require staff to work outside their normal working hours and to carry of duties which may not be part of their normal day to day work. While normal council remuneration terms would apply for those undertaking additional work, officers recommended that the one-off payment be made to employees “below scale six”.
Following heavy snowfall in March this year, council workers were deployed to town centres, villages and the worst-hit residential areas to clear snow and ice, allowing people to access homes and businesses.
And while some members raised concerns that the council is being asked to do the work of the Department for Regional Development with very little recompense, the committee agreed in principle the recommended one-off payment to staff.
The meeting heard that between 100 and 150 employees could be eligible for the payment, meaning a potential payout of £37,500. However, it was stressed that many staff wouldn’t be in a position to commit to emergency response work and therefore the cost is likely to be closer to £25,000.
UUP Councillor Mark Cosgrove described the payment as “very fair”, adding that it would be “money well spent” in the event of a situation similar to that which occurred last winter.
Councillor Gerry O’Reilly agreed that the recommended payment was “a reasonable amount” to lessen the hardship of residents and business owners.
The Sinn Fein representative said that the financial incentive would guarantee more workers committing to turning out during periods of bad weather, but he stressed that they would still struggle to cover all areas of the borough needing assistance.
Alderman Paul Girvan also agreed that staff carrying out the work should be paid for their efforts, but he said that the council should review the situation year on year.
Alderman John Blair highlighted the good work of council staff back in March, but stressed that the department must start to prioritise its efforts to help the worst-affected areas.
Council chief executive, Jacqui Dixon said that officers will now negotiate with trade union representatives in order to “thrash out the details” and reach an agreement on the matter.