25 January 2006

Secret cameras spark threat to strike

Daily Ireland

Connla Young
25/01/2006

Employees at a Northern council may go on strike after it was revealed that secret cameras had been used to spy on them at work.
Tensions at Newry and Mourne District Council have been running high after it emerged that workers at a council depot in Camlough, Co Armagh, had been secretly recorded by cameras installed at the orders of council chiefs.
Members of the Services, Industrial, Professional and Technical Union working at the council have threatened to take industrial action as a result.
Last October, a number of council workers protested at the council headquarters about their treatment at the hands of management.
Revelations of the secret filming at Camlough have fuelled fears that this practice is widespread throughout the council.
Siptu branch organiser John King yesterday told Daily Ireland that industrial action was a very real possibility.
“Nobody objects to the council using CCTV where they suspect criminality but it has transpired that, in this instance, it was used by the council to monitor people’s performance. That is something we have a difficulty with,” he said.
“There are long-standing issues relating to policies and procedures, and the thing that broke the camel’s back was the CCTV cameras. We are putting in place a mechanism to ballot for strike action.”
A spokesperson for Newry and Mourne District Council refused to say whether the council was continuing to use hidden cameras to monitor staff. The representative would not comment on the possibility of strike action.
The council spokesperson would only say: “It is inappropriate to comment on such matters at present. However, Newry and Mourne District Council wish to confirm that any action implemented has been taken after seeking due legal advice.”
Sinn Féin councillor Charlie Casey said he was concerned by the spy camera revelations.
“I have been contacted by council employees who are deeply concerned by the recent revelations.
“On the one hand, there is a necessity and responsibility of ensuring that our council — that includes staff — operates in an accountable manner.
“But that has to be balanced against protecting the rights and integrity of all. Certainly the question of adherence to the data protection protocol is one of the issues of concern.
“It is essential that management and the unions meet as a matter of urgency to discuss the protocol in relation to such activities as surveillance,” said Mr Casey.
Newry and Mourne mayor Pat McGinn yesterday raised concerns about attacks on council employees, following the fourth such incident in recent months.
Mr McGinn said he feared that council employees were being deliberately targeted.
He confirmed that “tensions” existed within the council workforce and that meetings had been held to try to iron out any problems.
“It has now been revealed that this is the fourth malicious attack on a member of staff, and really it cannot be put simply down to coincidence.
“We have a good working relationship within all areas of council and recently we met with unions and senior management to discuss them,” said the Sinn Féin man.

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