Inadequate gritting 'puts drivers in danger' - union

Image caption,
The Unite union warned that gritter drivers may not volunteer for overtime

Inadequate road gritting has left road users in danger in snow-affected parts of NI, a trade union has claimed.

The Unite union says a failure to address pay inequality has left the Department for Infrastructure's (DfI) gritting service understaffed.

Union spokesperson Gareth Scott said problems with work rosters were affecting rural areas of Antrim and Down in particular.

The department has denied its winter service is understaffed.

Overtime rates

Mr Scott said gritting duties were subject to a fixed overtime rate, which meant that management and other DfI services were being paid considerably more to perform the same work as Unite members.

"We understand that rosters to cover gritting duties are proving inadequate in some areas of Northern Ireland, in particular those in rural areas of Down and Antrim.

"As a result gritting has not been completed to standard and road users are being left to fend for themselves on dangerous roads."

He said the union had raised the possibility that workers would simply refuse to volunteer for overtime duties.

"Transport NI and the Department of Infrastructure have a duty to ensure the roads are maintained safely for all communities. They cannot expect to tough it out by relying on enough to volunteer for overtime so that they can cover urban centres and the main arterial routes," Mr Scott said.

Image source, Pacemaker
Image caption,
Tuesday's snowy conditions proved too much for this car

He said the union had been told the problem could not be resolved due to the lack of a DfI minister following the collapse of the Stormont executive.

A DfI spokesperson said: "Full staffing remains in place for this service in line with the department's current and longstanding emergency plans.

"Conditions at present are extremely difficult and some routes have been gritted up to five times in a 12-hour period, however, the department continues to operate its normal winter service arrangements and will continue to salt roads as necessary."

Winter service

Meanwhile, the Institute of Civil Engineers has warned that the DfI could be forced to cut its winter service in 2018-2020 due to budget cuts, resulting in no gritting or road clearing.

The organisation has based its claim on the government's recently-published Northern Ireland Budgetary Outlook 2018-20.

Regional Director Richard Kirk said: "We have seen the damaging impact snow and ice have had on Northern Ireland this winter, and the huge demand for road clearances this week alone.

"It's inconceivable that next winter the public could be left to fend for themselves in adverse conditions."