Biggest nursing union to ballot on industrial action
NORTHERN Ireland's biggest nursing union has confirmed it is to ballot its members for industrial action short of an all-out strike.
Meanwhile in the Republic, the nurses strike scheduled for seven hospital emergency departments on Tuesday was last night called off.
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN), which has more than 14,000 members in the north, said the unprecedented move followed the failure of health minister Simon Hamilton to grant a recommended one per cent pay award for 2015/16.
The below-inflation increase would equate to an extra £5 a week for the average nurse and £6 a week for a more senior ward sister.
Northern Ireland is the only part of the NHS where a pay deal has not been secured, with the union saying its members are now at least 10 per cent worse off than in 2008.
It is feared that mass industrial action of nursing and healthcare assistant staff could seriously impact on an already overstretched health service.
Janice Smyth, RCN director in the north, claimed it had made repeated efforts to engage with Department of Health officials but their concerns had fallen on deaf ears.
She insisted that the decision to ballot had "not been taken lightly".
"It would appear that nurses pay is not considered a priority for the Department of Health," she said.
"An experienced staff nurse in Northern Ireland is now paid £279 a year less than in England and £561 a year less than in Scotland. The message that the care they provide to the people of Northern Ireland is not valued is being made loud and clear.
"When we end up in a situation where there appears to be no alternative to industrial action, then we know that nursing staff have been pushed to the limit."
A spokesman for Mr Hamilton last night said he was aware of the union's decision to ballot its members "and has indicated his disappointment that this is the case".
"His department is keen to progress discussions with trade unions," he said.
"Officials have repeatedly sought to engage with trade unions who have refused to enter into discussions on a settlement for 2015/16. The department remains hopeful this will change and that unions will engage."