Northern Ireland

North's biggest healthcare union notifying trust chiefs of 'work to rule' dates

Unison has balloted its members on industrial action. Previous action was taken four years ago. Picture by Hugh Russell
Unison has balloted its members on industrial action. Previous action was taken four years ago. Picture by Hugh Russell

THE trade union representing the majority of Northern Ireland's healthcare workers has said it is talking to other unions about how to "co-ordinate" strike action.

Unison chiefs have proposed a series of 'work to rule' days beginning on November 25 but have also received backing from members for strike action.

The Royal College of Nursing announced earlier this week that it has earmarked December 18 for a 12-hour strike, the first in its history.

A walk-out by Unison members on the same day could be crippling for patients, leading to thousands of cancelled hospital operations and procedures.

Unison's dispute centres on staffing and pay.

General secretary Patricia McKeown said: "The level of vacancies is placing extraordinary stress on our members. The Department of Health has to realise just how deep and real this goes.

"We are still open to negotiations but due to our planned action we are finalising details and writing to each health trust employer to formally notify them of our programme of action. We will be notifying them each week.

"This will include work to rule initially and but we have been involved in separate discussions with other unions on how to co-ordinate strike action, which may happen on the same day."

Almost two-thirds of Unison's 40,000 members work in the hospital and community sector. They include nurses, porters, catering, cleaning, technical and administration staff as well as paramedics, physiotherapists and speech therapists.

Meanwhile, the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) yesterday said its board had made a "unanimous decision" to ballot midwives and maternity support workers "in coming months" on industrial action over pay.

Last year midwifery chiefs consulted with members and 95 per cent backed a strike.

RCM director Karen Murray said midwives in the north were earning £2,000 less than their NHS counterparts and felt "less valued".

"The RCM has not taken the decision to ballot our members lightly, but after eight months of talks with the Department of Health a fair and decent resolution for our members cannot be found," she said.

"The Department of Health must understand the RCM and other unions are willing to negotiate, but they must accept pay parity with the rest of the UK for our members is crucial if we are to avoid industrial action in health and social care services in Northern Ireland."

In a statement released last week, the Department of Health said it "remains focussed on finding a way forward".

"In this context we are currently finalising a formal pay offer for 2019/20," a spokesman said.

"This will be the best offer possible within the budget available, but the reality is that our ability to address pay issues is inevitably constrained at a time of intense budgetary pressures for health and social care services.

"Every pound spent on one priority area is a pound not available for another."