Healthcare unions warn of strike action in new year over 'paltry' three per cent pay award
A "PALTRY" three per cent pay award for health and social care workers in Northern Ireland could lead to renewed strike action, trade union chiefs have warned.
Nipsa deputy general secretary Pádraig Mulholland said the decision announced by Health Minister Robin Swann amounted to a "real terms pay cut" given the substantial rises in the cost of living.
Its members will now be consulted, while Unison has also confirmed it will be seeking views as to the next course of action - which will include industrial action.
Mr Swann announced the three per cent increase - which will backdated to April - following a recommendation by the NHS review body.
In a letter to union representatives, he said he appreciated they "may be disappointed" but that budget constraints prevented him from offering a better deal.
Mr Mulholland said it was a "slap in the face for hard pressed health workers".
"When rises in the cost of living are factored in this paltry award amounts to a real terms pay cut of approximately 1.5 per cent. On top of this cut our members have had draconian car park charges imposed," he added.
"The impact will be a deepening of the staffing crisis in the health service as many more staff will be forced to leave in 2022. This is not just a pay crisis, it is also a staffing crisis.
"By taking this retrograde step the NI assembly is setting the scene for a renewal of health service wide strike action in 2022. It is time to take action to defend our health service."
Unprecedented numbers of frontline workers took to the picket lines in late 2019 and early 2020 over a pay dispute and concerns about unsafe staffing.
For the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), it was their first ever strike action in the union's 103 year history.
RCN director Rita Devlin said the award "falls far below" what members believe is fair, but that they were relieved to receive it and retain pay parity with colleagues in England and Wales.
"As has already happened in Scotland, England and Wales, we will now consult our members on the next steps forward. This will be their opportunity to speak up for their patients and outline the impact of such a meagre pay award on them and where they work," she said.
Unison's Anne Speed told The Irish News the union believed the offer was "unacceptable" and that it will be consulting with 27,000 members next week.
"This award falls short of our ask. With inflation reaching 4 per cent by year end, we told the minister some time ago it wouldn't be enough," she said.
"We now plan to ask our members if they are prepared for industrial action going into the new year...and this will set a marker down for negotiations that are opening then.
"We will also be giving Unison members an opportunity to have their say on the workforce gaps, unsafe staffing and the ridiculous amount spent on agency staffing."