Our public servants deserve better
The Irish News view: Health and social care workers and FE college and university lecturers need fair wages
The desperate state of our public services has been placed in the spotlight once again, this time through strike action by health and social care workers, with staff at further education colleges also taking to picket lines.
The industrial action has two main aims: to draw attention to workers' pay and conditions; and to highlight the urgent need for increased funding for the services we rely upon.
Years of dysfunction at Stormont and the cumulative effect of more than a decade of Tory austerity has led workers across the public sector to take strike and industrial action in recent years. The DUP's assembly boycott has only made matters worse.
At FE colleges, the University and College Union has been on strike this week with rolling action to follow in coming months. In addition, courses at Ulster University, Stranmillis University College and St Mary's University College are all expected to be affected by strike action next week.
The latest round of protests in the health service has seen members of Unison, Unite and Nipsa forming picket lines outside hospitals, with two days of action starting on Thursday. Professions including paramedics, healthcare assistants, pharmacists, radiographers and health visitors are among those who have reluctantly gone on strike. They have been joined by physiotherapists and midwives.
The breadth of professions now involved – in addition to the nurses and doctors who have mounted their own protests – helps to convey just how deeply the discontent in the health service runs.
It is a bleak picture. One of the key demands is for pay parity with their counterparts working in the health service in Britain. In England, for example, health workers have been offered a five per cent increase and a one-off payment of around £1,655.
The prospects are remote that such an offer will be made to Northern Ireland workers. Secretary of state Chris Heaton-Harris imposed what has been widely described as a 'punishment budget' on Stormont earlier this year. In its wake Peter May, the Department of Health's permanent secretary, pointed out that the only way to fund pay rises would be to make "unprecedented cuts" to services.
Union and professional representatives have consistently pointed out that the pay situation has been exacerbated by the cost-of-living crisis and rampant inflation. That has affected all of us, of course, but it must say something about our society's values when too many of those who we expect to care for us in our moments of need and vulnerability are struggling to make ends meet.