UNISON Northern Ireland


Today (5th December) UNISON has engaged in good faith with both the Secretary of State and the Department of Health in relation to our members’ ongoing dispute over the lack of pay parity and unsafe staffing levels. Responding to the proposal made this evening by the Department of Health, UNISON Regional Secretary Patricia McKeown said:

“It is now clear that neither the Department of Health nor the Secretary of State has acted in good faith today. Our worst fears have been realised. They are using the health service, health workers and patients alike as bargaining chips to force the return of Stormont.

First they said there was no more money. The Permanent Secretary insisted that £51 million was the “the best we can afford”.

Today they found a further £28 million within the Northern Ireland budget. This still falls over £20 million short of what is required for pay parity. Workers and the public may well question why it is taking so long to identify this funding. They may also question what other resources exist to meet our members’ legitimate demand for pay parity.

Today in answer to the direct question from union negotiators:

“If you find the money will you pay it?” 

The Department replied:

‘It is not possible to address this in the absence of a minister…either local or Direct Rule. The matter of authority to do so is the issue’.

This position was repeated by the Permanent Secretary in a live TV interview.

We are now being told that a decision taken 3 health ministers ago cannot be overturned despite the powers to act in the public interest granted to senior civil servants by special Westminster legislation in 2018.

The refusal to act now in the public interest in the face of the crisis in the health service is not only irresponsible, it appears to us to be the misuse of political leverage by the UK Government and the administration of the state in Northern Ireland.

We challenge the Secretary of State to explain how and why this is happening.  

We are calling on all political parties to now make a clear demand either individually or collectively, in advance of further talks on restoring devolution, for instructions to be issued to the Department of Health to restore pay parity and resolve the current dispute.”