Two DUP MLAs break ranks over nurses' pay rise

Alex Easton, DUP North Down Assembly member, has pledged his support for the RCN fair pay campaign
Seanín Graham

TWO DUP Assembly members have broken ranks to support a one per cent pay rise for nurses.

North Down MLA Alex Easton, a former NHS worker, and East Derry representative Adrian McQuillan, have personally endorsed a pay award - despite two successive DUP health ministers failing to sign off on the rise.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) wrote to all 108 Assembly members last September asking them to back the increase - which equates to an extra £5 a week - in line with the rest of the NHS.

The trade union has mounted a campaign demanding 'fair payment', resulting in it balloting 14,000 members for industrial action.

The Irish News has learned that only 38 MLAs - mostly Sinn Féin, the SDLP, Ulster Unionists and Alliance – have responded personally to express their support the campaign, either by letter, email or on social media.

Mr Easton sent an email last September while Mr McQuillan gave his backing by letter.

Ministerial approval from the Department of Health is required for the pay increase - and talks have broken down between trade unions and government on the issue.

Both Mr Wells and Mr Hamilton have stressed they are bound by budget constraints. Former DUP minister Edwin Poots endorsed the rise however, and attempted to set aside £22 millon to cover the cost in the event of it being granted to all eligible health sector workers, which also includes porters, laboratory technicians, domestics and a whole raft of other staff.

In documents seen by the Irish News, four other DUP MLAs - Mervyn Storey (North Antrim), Trevor Clarke (South Antrim), Sydney Anderson (Upper Bann) and Emma Pengelly (South Belfast) - wrote back they would not be pledging their support.

The RCN last night said that the UUP, SDLP, UKIP and the Green Party have now supported their campaign as a "matter of policy".

Northern Ireland is the only part of the NHS where a pay deal has not been secured for health sector workers, which led to widespread walkouts last year.

While many nurses have received incremental rises, thousands have not seen any changes to their salaries since 2011 as they have reached the top of their pay bands.

Meanwhile, doctors, dentists and senior health trust executives negotiate their contracts separately which has led to mounting frustration over the scale of multi-million pound pension pots and bonus payments to medics.

Janice Smyth, RCN director, expressed her "disappointment" their campaign had received such a poor response from the DUP.

Former first minister Peter Robinson and his successor Arlene Foster have failed to respond despite repeated lobbying by nurses in their respective constituency areas.

"We noted the very low support from the DUP but we are not surprised by this given the response of the DUP health ministers to our concerns over the past two years," she said.

"Despite the letters going out four months ago, I'm hoping there's still time for MLAs to reflect and consider the valuable contribution made by nurses to our health service."


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