UNISON Northern Ireland

UNISON ballots health workers for industrial action to save our health service

UNISON, the largest union within the health system in Northern Ireland, start today (21st October) to ballot our members for the next 3 weeks on taking industrial action and action short of strike. For the last 8 months, UNISON has been in discussions with the Department of Health and employers on closing the pay gap between health workers in Northern Ireland and other parts of the NHS.

Commenting on the opening of the ballot, UNISON Head of Bargaining and Representation, Anne Speed said:

“We are recommending that our members vote yes in this ballot for industrial action. Why should workers in Glasgow, Birmingham or Cardiff be valued more than workers in Belfast, Newry or Ballymena?

While other parts of the NHS have been awarded three-year pay deals in a collective agreement which is supposed to cover all four health services, Northern Ireland health workers have only had a one-year award imposed on them for 2018.

We have been clear and consistent in our demand that these workers cannot be left behind. We have also been clear that the failure to maintain decent pay is causing a sustained crisis in the health service. The workforce that the public needs to deliver the care that they rightly expect cannot be recruited and retained in the absence of fair pay.

The Department continues to stick to the line that they do not have enough money to pay workers what they deserve here in Northern Ireland. The Department is being penny wise and pound foolish here as it spends hundreds of millions of pounds on high cost agency staff, public money which would be far better used on recruiting and retaining permanent staff on fair pay.

It is simply not credible for the Department of Health on the one hand to talk about the need to transform services to make them sustainable for the future, whilst on the other hand failing to invest in what the public knows is our health service’s most important asset, it’s workers.

We are urging our members to vote yes for strike action and send a message loud and clear to the Department of Health that the life-saving work they do will no longer be undervalued.

We know the public value our health workers. They workers’ fight for pay justice is not about self-interest. It is about saving our health service itself which is suffering from unsafe staffing levels and crisis waiting lists. The future of our health service will only be secure when there is the investment in pay that is so badly needed.’’