Following the announcement in the Assembly, on Thursday 15 April, that the Executive has decided to commence the lifting of lock-down restrictions, I wanted to update you in relation to discussions with NICS Management in relation to future working in the NICS.

As you will be aware, we have begun some initial discussions in relation to a Home-Working Policy. Those discussions are in the very early stages and we are awaiting a revised copy of the draft policy for further consultation. It is our intention to ensure that the final policy will, as far as is possible, allow those who can successfully work from home to do so, if that is their preference. We recognise, however, that for some members the experience of working from home has not been entirely positive and that some members are keen to return the workplace. We would expect the final policy to be flexible enough to accommodate the preferences of all staff. NIPSA will ensure that all health and safety and other obligations to staff will be met by the employer no matter where staff are working. It is likely that it will take some time to ensure all the proper procedures are in place.

NIPSA has recently become aware that the NICS Management have engaged the consultants, Ernst and Young (EY), to assist them with fact-finding in departments about shaping their working practices post-COVID and about future IT and accommodation needs. At the moment we are attempting to establish exactly what EY has been engaged to do and how they will interface with staff. A further bulletin will be issued if we need to alert members to any concerns about that work.

Part of the discussion on the future working of the NICS, will include the Connect2 hubs that were announced by the Finance Minister in February. You will be aware that the initial 2 locations, Ballykelly and Downpatrick, are due to open in the Spring of 2021 with further sites planned for 2022 and 2023. NIPSA has expressed concern that, at this stage, there has been no mention of Connect2 hubs in Mid-Ulster area and we intend to raise that issue again as the negotiations progress. Negotiations on the detailed working of the Connect2 hubs has not yet commenced but members will be kept apprised of the details in the coming weeks.

Finally, there has not yet been any central discussion with NICS Management about a general return to work for staff across departments and we are not expecting such consultation to begin at this time. NIPSA believes it is still much too early for such considerations. Members in the Department for Communities will be aware, however, that separate discussions have just begun with Departmental Trade Union Side in relation to the possible limited opening of public offices in that Department and information has been issued to those members.

If local Branch or Departmental Representatives in other Departments are approached about a return to work, they should contact their Departmental Trade Union Side office or NIPSA Official.

Further bulletins will be issued as necessary.

Carmel Gates
Deputy General Secretary