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NHS crisis as workers back strike action in pay rise dispute

By Victoria O'Hara

Thousands of health workers across Northern Ireland are due to go on strike in a row over pay.

Unite members voted in favour to stop work for four hours on October 13 because of anger over the Government's 1% pay rise offer for NHS workers in England.

Staff in Northern Ireland have yet to receive an offer, and they have called on Health Minister Jim Wells to review a decision by his predecessor Edwin Poots to not make one.

Mr Wells described the strike decision as "regrettable" and said he wanted it resolved.

The 78% of members who voted for the strike action plan to suspend work between 11am and 3pm. They will also work to rule and stick to a 37.5-hour week between October 13 and November 9.

The Unite walkout will coincide with mass industrial action by healthcare workers in England.

Unite's regional lead officer for health, Kevin McAdam, said workers would not be "held hostage" by the Stormont political deadlock.

"Our hard-working members continue to deliver the service the public expects of them, and for that they feel entitled to a decent pay rise," he added.

"The Pay Review Body (PRB) has made a recommendation and we expect the Assembly to implement that recommendation.

"We are calling on Jim Wells to urgently review this situation and implement the PRB award to include the introduction of the living wage."

Former Health Minister Edwin Poots, who was replaced in a DUP reshuffle this week, claimed he was facing a £140m deficit even though his department was protected from £78m of cuts imposed on other departments and had £20m added to its budget.

With so many issues on his plate, Mr Wells said he was "considering all options available" before issuing a pay statement.

"I value the hard work and commitment of all health and social care staff and wish to ensure that any decision made in relation to pay protects and properly staffs the frontline," he said.

"I desire an early resolution to this dispute and hope to be able to make an announcement soon on the 2014/15 pay award.

"We face an increasingly challenging financial scenario after we received only £20m in the June monitoring round against bids of £160m, leaving me some very difficult decisions to make.

"I will give these full consideration in order to minimise any detrimental impacts on health and social services."

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