UNISON Northern Ireland

Belfast City Council votes unanimously to support health workers taking industrial action

On Monday 2nd December, councillors at the Belfast City Council meeting voted unanimously to support a motion to support health workers taking industrial action.

The motion, brought by Cllr Geraldine McAteer, called on council to support the industrial action being taken by UNISON members and the planned action by the Royal College of Nursing and other health unions. The motion also called on the Permanent Secretary along with his colleagues in the Department of Finance and the Head of the Civil Service to secure the funding needed to achieve pay parity for health workers .

UNISON Regional Secretary Patricia McKeown along with North and West Belfast Branch Secretary Maura McKenna addressed the meeting telling councillors that the action was a difficult decision for members who have been pushed to the brink by low pay, spiralling waiting lists and a lack of safe staffing.

Patricia McKeown said:

“Health workers in Northern Ireland are the lowest paid in the entire health service due to the successive failure of our devolved government to ensure the pay kept pace. The absence of £50m to fund equal pay has had profound repercussions across the health service. This has lead to over 7,000 staff vacancies, appointments cancelled and operations rescheduled.

“The consequence of not paying people properly, people leaving the health service and thousands of vacancies, means that we have people on waiting lists up to 5 years for operations. Patients can wait up to 50 times longer in Northern Ireland than in England, Scotland and Wales.

“UNISON has said to the Permanent Secretary, we don’t need a Minister to complete this deal that was agreed over two years ago, but we do need the money from their budget or a conversation needs to happen with the Secretary of State.

“For some of our members this is the first time in their lives they have taken action but they feel the time has come to stand up and speak out. When we started this action we had 25,000 directly employed trust members, in the last 2 weeks that has swelled by over 1,000 members in the health service who have joined UNISON to take part in strike action.”

Maura Mc Kenna added:

“Contrary to reports in the media, exemptions from industrial action were given to critical care including Cancer services, Intensive Care Units, Emergency Departments, Renal Units and areas of potential risk to life or limb.

“Health workers are passionate about the delivery of first class care to the citizens here and we continue to discuss areas of consideration for derogation.

“It is our view that a negotiated settlement which would achieve pay parity in the absence of a health minister or a wider executive is entirely possible, however, what is required are the resources to do so.  We remain open to further discussions but only on the basis that resources are made available, we secure completion of agenda for change refresh and corrective action is taken to reinstate safe staffing and end the huge overspend on agency workers.

“We believe there is widespread support among political parties in Northern Ireland and we would welcome support of the council on a cross party basis. When such resources are made available we are fully prepared to reengage in further discussions.”

Cllr Emma Groves seconded the motion saying taking industrial action was a difficult decision for workers to make.

“They are the backbone of our NHS and without them our health service would fail. They are currently being undervalued and under resourced”.

Speakers supporting the motion included Cllr Sonia Copeland UUP, Cllr Paul McCusker SDLP, Cllr George Dorrian – DUP, Cllr Anthony Flynn – Green Party, Cllr Fiona Ferguson PBPA, Cllr Emmet McDonough-Brown – Alliance.

Council voted unanimously in favour of the motion.