Healthcare news

Health workers to take industrial action before end of November

Thousands of health and education workers took to picket lines across Northern Ireland in 2011 for a 24-hour strike to protest against budget cuts, with around 1,000 procedures cancelled at hospitals. Picture by Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker

HEALTH workers have voted to strike, with a "first wave of industrial action" expected before the end of the month after Unison members were balloted over pay and staffing levels.

Unison is the biggest union in Northern Ireland's health and social services system, with its largest occupational groups in nursing, social care and support services.

The vote in favour of action was 92 per cent, on a reported turnout of 23 per cent, and representatives will meet on Friday to finalise details for "a comprehensive industrial action plan".

The move follows notice by the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) that that nurses in Northern Ireland will stage the first-ever official strike anywhere in the UK since it formed more than a century ago.

The RCN UK Council is due to meet in London today to set out its plans.

Unison said last night that its plan "includes strike action and other forms of industrial action across the system", with the first wave "before the end of November 2019".

Regional secretary Patricia McKeown, insisted there is still time for health chiefs to avoid a winter crisis, but members "have been pushed to the brink".

"Responsibility for averting this critical situation lies with the Department of Health, the head of the NI Civil Service and the Department of Finance."

The union claimed an "absence (of) pay justice and safe staffing levels" have been the "key contributing factor in the now crisis level in waiting lists and waiting times for patients across Northern Ireland".

"The message from UNISON members is clear. They are no longer prepared to accept the lowest pay levels in the UK, the greatest number of frontline vacancies and the highest waiting lists. "

The department said it "remains focussed on finding a way forward" and is "finalising a formal pay offer for 2019/20".

However, it warned that "the reality is that our ability to address pay issues is inevitably constrained at a time of intense budgetary pressures".

"There is no separate or untapped source of funding that we can access."

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