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Nurses in Northern Ireland reject latest pay offer

Two-day industrial action will go ahead this week, with another 12 hours of action planned for December 18

Caroline White

Monday, 09 December 2019

Two days of industrial action by nurses in Northern Ireland are set to go ahead this week as part of a planned schedule of protest about pay and staffing, after the latest pay offer was rejected by the Royal College of Nursing (RCN).

Nurses voted in October to take industrial action, which stops short of an all-out strike, amid concerns that pay for nursing staff within the health service in Northern Ireland has continued to fall behind that of England, Scotland and Wales.

Nearly all of those balloted voted overwhelmingly in favour of industrial action (96%), with 92% backing strike action.

Nearly 3,000 nursing posts in healthcare remain unfilled in Northern Ireland, with a similar level of vacancies estimated in nursing homes. 

Last Tuesday saw the first day of industrial action by RCN members working in health and social care services across the province.

Similar action will take place this Tuesday and Wednesday, with a further 12 hours of action scheduled for December 18.

If agreement can’t be reached, the RCN is also considering further industrial action in January, February, and March of next year.

As part of the protest, nurses are refusing to work bank or overtime shifts, or unpaid hours, and they aren’t completing paperwork, or collecting prescriptions.

Renewed pay discussions took place between the Department of Health and health trade unions on Thursday last week, prompting a new pay offer to be tabled. But this was rejected as it fell “significantly short” of members’ requirements, said the RCN.

Director of the RCN in Northern Ireland Pat Cullen said: “Nurses have made it clear that they expect pay parity with England and Wales, as well as concrete measures to address the nurse staffing crisis in Northern Ireland. These expectations are the basis of our industrial action.

“Despite the intervention of the secretary of state for Northern Ireland, with whom the RCN met [on Thursday], it’s clear that Department of Health officials are still incapable of grasping either the severity of the crisis in our health service or the determination of nursing staff to secure safe staffing and pay equality.”
 
She continued: “Nurses are no longer prepared to listen to the same excuses from the Department of Health about budgets and/or not having the ministerial authority to deliver an acceptable pay award even if the money were available.

“Our health service is collapsing as we speak. It is simply not good enough for civil servants to continue to play with words and fail to take effective action to resolve this crisis. The RCN believes the gap between what the department is offering and what nurses expect in terms of pay parity can be achieved.”
 
She added that the RCN had consistently emphasised its willingness to continue discussions with the Department of Health. But any proposals had to address the issues nurses have highlighted.

UNISON members across health and social care in Northern Ireland are also in the first phase of industrial action short of a strike over pay, which has been running since Monday 25 November until Wednesday 18 December.

Members include nurses, ambulance staff, clerical and social care workers.

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