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Average nurse earns more than £30,000 a year, minister says

Health minister Simon Hamilton meets nurses during a visit to the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast last May. Picture by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye...

The average basic pay for nurses is more than £30,000 a year, before special payments are added on top, health minister Simon Hamilton has said.

Responding to a campaign for a one percent pay rise, Mr Hamilton said nurses pay has risen by 32 per cent in the last decade.

The DUP minister announced that NHS healthcare workers who have reached the top of their pay scales, including nurses, will receive a one per cent rise.

Mr Hamilton said those who are not at the top of their pay scales will receive an average "spine point rise of 3.7 per cent equating to £1,588 (up to a maximum of £4,509)".

However, one union branded the rise an "insult", while nursing union the RCN said it "denies many nurses and health and social care staff a cost of living pay rise".

Northern Ireland had been the only part of the NHS where a pay deal had not been secured for health-sector workers - an issue that led to widespread walkouts last year.

Mr Hamilton said nurses and midwives had seen their basic pay rise to more than £30,000, with additional payments such as overtime or unsocial hours for working nights and weekends coming on top.

Janice Smyth, director of the RCN in Northern Ireland, said: "Any pay award made by the minister must honour the cost of meeting any incremental increases that staff are contractually entitled to in accordance with their terms and conditions of employment.

"He does not have any choice since it is their contractual right."

Mr Hamilton criticised trade union representatives and said his officials had been trying to get a settlement since January of last year.

"More than a year later I am not prepared to keep our staff waiting any longer," he said.

He said the unions' pay demands would have cost nearly £40 million and were "simply unaffordable in current circumstances".

"Meeting the unions' pay demands in full would be the equivalent of 5,800 knee replacements, 5,700 hip replacements or indeed the employment of an additional 1,000 nurses," he said.

He said he valued healthcare workers but staff could only be rewarded "as far as possible within the current financial constraints".

"More than half of every pound my department spends goes to health and care staff," he said.

He said he felt the pay award was a "fair deal" for workers.

Ms Smyth said most nurses, around 58 per cent, "earn between £21,478 and £27,909".

"This pay award is non-consolidated, which means that on 1 April 2016 nurses' pay will return to 2011 pay rates and the differential in pay between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK will widen further," she said.

She added: "A sub-committee of the RCN Northern Ireland Board will meet on Monday to consider the tone and detail of the minister's pay award."

Anne Speed from trade union UNISON said a scheduled meeting with the minister last year had to be cancelled due to the DUP's 'in-out' ministerial tactic during the Stormont crisis.

"It was only in December 2015 that the minister eventually met with the Trade Unions on the NHS pay award," she said.

She said workers in the NHS in Northern Ireland are the poorest paid in the health service.

"The minister's imposition of a non-consolidated one per cent pay award is an insult," she said.

"All the more so when MLAs received a pay uplift of 11 per cent."

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