Government cutbacks have sparked safety fears as road workers claim they are being denied access to proper equipment in the north west.
Sources within the Department for Regional Development’s Transport NI (formerly Roads Service) claimed morale among workers was plummeting as they were unable to access equipment, including Personal Protective Equipment including wellington boots, and have seen their workloads and pay dropping off.
One source said: “There are a lot of tensions. Some workers are down £150 a week. Morale is very low.”
The Department has confirmed an increase in the use of “manual methods” over recent times.
Unite the union Regional Organiser Gareth Scott meanwhile said that there were now also fears that the safety of road users was being compromised because of the restrictions to works such as pothole repairs and gully clearing.
Mr Scott said union officials would be meetings with management at Transport NI this week concerning the pressures on budgets for roads operation and maintenance in the north, which has been slashed from £40m last year to £12m this year.
Mr Scott said the service was only operating at present on a skeleton basis and on the assumption more money will become available.
“There are major restrictions on the amount of potholes that will be fixed, he said. “Fuel is restricted to 50 to 60 litres per week per lorry.
“We are very concerned about the impact on the workers. These workers want to work but they are being denied the opportunity to work.
“But this is not just an insider thing. This is really going to affect the quality of service and the quality of the roads.
“We are deeply concerned about the damage this can do in terms of accidents and by not clearing gullies that could have implications for flooding.”
A DRD spokeswoman claimed staff were being issued with the required protective equipment. She said: “Management has placed a high priority on ensuring good communications with staff during this challenging period.
“Funding pressures have meant there has been an increase in activity where manual methods are being employed. There is currently sufficient work to keep the workforce fully employed.
“Staff are issued with the required personal protective equipment to enable them to carry out their duties safely.”
She added that Regional Development Minister Danny Kennedy recently said his department does not have enough money to provide a sufficient service in areas like pothole repairs, traffic lights and other measures such as gully emptying and grass cutting at junctions.
“The Department simply cannot spend money that it does not have,” he said.