Belfast Telegraph

Health Minister ‘must listen to workers’: Agnew

Thousands of Northern Irish health and education workers ended their strike against frontline budget cuts at midnight last night.

They were holding the strike to “protect services and jobs” yet the Health Minister, Edwin Poots said the strike would affect the “ill and vulnerable” most. Around 1,000 procedures were cancelled at hospitals due to the strike.

A total of 18% of Unison members voted for the strike action.

Yesterday at Knockbracken, Knockbreda, and the already closed Cregagh clinics in Belfast around 50 health workers formed pickets in protest at the government’s health and education cuts.

Roberta Magee, Unison south and east Belfast Branch Secretary said: “Nurses are working in a position where it is not safe — they are doing extra work that they can’t cope with.

“There are cuts in domestic services, home help is going to the private sector when it should remain in the statutory and some people, elderly patients, are only getting 15 minutes for personal care as it is. It can take 10 minutes to get them breakfast, and that leaves five minutes.

“It is likely to get worse,” she said. “Union members have agreed to give personal care and cover and are joining the pickets on their breaks and there is emergency cover for us.

“The government knows the cuts ahead don’t benefit those with no money. The rich will be able to continue to pay for their treatment but the poor can’t.”

Unison regional secretary Patricia McKeown said: “The workers are facing some of the worst cuts in their history.”

She said in some areas home care workers are taking strike action for the first time.

Northern Ireland Conservatives spokesperson Bill McKendry described the strike as ‘irresponsible’. “If they believe that they are hurting politicians by their actions, then they are sadly mistaken,” he said.

“The people who will really suffer are those who rely most on public services; older people, the ill and children.

“Unison says it is striking to protect jobs and to oppose spending cuts. A little flexibility from trade unions could still help save frontline jobs in the public sector and the government’s swift action to tackle the deficit has prevented the UK from plunging into financial crisis.”

Green Party MLA Steven Agnew said: “We support the workers’ right to strike and believe it is not up to politicians to decide where, when and how workers can protest.

“This is the first strike by health workers in Northern Ireland for nearly 30 years and this is not a decision that they have taken lightly. The Health Minister needs to recognise the rights of workers to protest and should not be attempting to coerce them through guilt not to take this action.

“Instead, he should be listening to their issues and concerns and not demonising them,” he added.

The education budget is facing a shortfall of £300 million over four years, while health is facing cuts of £2.3 billion.

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