Belfast Telegraph

Health staff set for 24-hour walkout in pensions revolt

Members of the Unite union voice their anger at public sector pension reform plans last year

By Lisa Smyth

The health service in Northern Ireland is facing further strike action as one of the biggest public sector unions has given notice of a 24-hour walkout next month.

The proposed strike by 4,000 Unite members is likely to cause widespread disruption to GP surgeries, hospitals and health care in the community if it goes ahead on May 10.

It is part of proposed UK-wide action in response to Government plans to overhaul the NHS pension and it is believed other unions may join the walkout.

Health visitors, pharmacists, paramedics, district nurses and lab technicians are some of the health service employees expected to take part in the strike action.

If the walkout goes ahead, it is expected thousands of planned surgical procedures will be cancelled for the day, although emergency care will continue.

A spokesman for Unite said the pension campaign comes against a backdrop of public sector pay freezes, pay cuts and the prospect of regionalised pay levels. On top of that, hard-working health professionals are also facing attacks to their terms and conditions and growing job insecurity, he said.

Unite’s regional officer for health, Kevin McAdam, said: “The Government is picking the pockets of health workers by an average of £30-a-month in order to pay for pension changes which will see people having to work longer to get less.

“This disgraceful attack comes against a backdrop of pay freezes and the threat of regional pay in the public sector. In the face of continued attacks, health workers will be stepping up their campaign and looking to join other public sector workers in taking action on May 10.”

He said Unite’s health members voted by a margin of over 94% to reject the pensions package.

He said concerns centre on linking the NHS pension age to the rising State pension, a rise in contributions on the back of a two-year pay freeze, and reduced pension payouts.

In particular, health service employees have expressed concern over their ability to work to the age of 68 given the fact that many of their duties require heavy manual work.

Background

The planned strike is part of ongoing action against Government proposals to overhaul public sector pensions. Thousands of public sector workers staged a mass walk out on November 30 last year bringing services to a standstill. Medical operations were cancelled and 400 schools and colleges shut in the biggest ever public sector strike in Northern Ireland.

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