Hamilton awards health service workers 1% pay rise in bid to ward off unrest but union brands increase miserly
NHS workers in Northern Ireland will get a 1% pay rise in line with the rest of the UK, the Health Minister has announced.
Simon Hamilton said he had accepted recommendations from two independent bodies for a 2016/17 pay award.
However, a leading health workers' union said the pay gap between Northern Ireland and UK staff should be reviewed.
At one point during the long-running dispute, nurses' representatives threatened industrial action.
Yesterday, the minister announced he had accepted recommendations for a 1% rise from both the NHS Pay Review Body and the Doctors and Dentists' Review Body.
Writing in today's Belfast Telegraph, Mr Hamilton said that since becoming Health Minister last May he had "become acutely aware of the immensity of the challenges facing my department".
"That includes having to make tough choices and difficult decisions, balancing a range of pressures for my department's limited resources," he wrote.
Mr Hamilton said the NHS Pay Review Body Report suggested that certain economic factors "could point towards the option of a nil award", and told how it stated that it had seen no evidence to say that large numbers of staff were leaving Northern Ireland because of pay.
"However, both bodies have recommended a 1% increase for health and social care staff and salaried doctors and dentists in Northern Ireland, in line with the award across the rest of the United Kingdom," he added.
"I am happy to confirm that I am accepting these recommendations for a 1% pay award.
"I know that some will, perhaps, think that they should get a higher pay rise than 1%. It will, of course, be challenging in what are tough budgetary times to find the funds to meet this award. But on this issue I am clear that this is an appropriate and affordable award for our hard-working staff - the vast majority of whom, I am sure, will warmly welcome this decision."
However, the Unison union called for further examination of the pay gaps between Northern Ireland and the other regions in the NHS. Anne Speed, head of bargaining and representation added: "Unison members are disappointed that pay inequalities experienced by our members will continue because of the decisions by health ministers over the past two years and the late submission to the Pay Review Body this year.
"We echo the criticism of our colleagues across the UK that the Pay Review Body has stuck to the artificial 1% pay freeze imposed by the Tory government. We agree with them that this rise falls way below what health workers need and deserve after years of health cuts, especially as changes to national insurance and pension contributions will absorb much of this miserly increase.
"The governments in Scotland and Wales are committed to paying the living wage. Staff in Northern Ireland will want to know why tackling poverty pay in the health service here is not a political priority."
Ms Speed said NHS staff in Northern Ireland have had imposed pay awards for the last two years "and have effectively had a pay freeze for the last year". She said pay rates here remain at 2013/14 levels and are at least 1% behind the rest of the UK.
She added: "The Unison Health Committee therefore will insist that the incoming Northern Ireland Executive and Health Minister directly engage with the regional health trade unions to ensure that pay inequalities are addressed and resolved at the earliest opportunity. The message from Unison health workers to the incoming Executive is 'pay us what you owe us'."