Health unions suspend strike ballot as O'Neill halts new payroll plan
A decision by the Health Minister not to change the salary payment system for health workers has been welcomed as a victory by campaigners.
The Unison and Unite unions were jubilant after Michelle O'Neill said she would not introduce monthly payments to replace weekly and fortnightly ones.
The minister made the decision following an engagement hosted by West Belfast MP Paul Maskey with frontline healthcare workers and unions.
The unions have said they will suspend any strike ballot following the minister's move.
Patricia McKeown, Unison regional secretary, said the minister recognised that women workers, low paid and part-timers particularly, would have been adversely affected by the change.
"We note that the minister has 'halted' the move to single pay frequency rather than completely abandoning it," she said.
"Consequently, Unison will halt our strike ballot. Many changes need to be made to health service pay including the introduction of a Living Wage and the need to tackle the fact that health workers in Northern Ireland have fallen behind the pay levels of their counterparts in GB.
"The minister's decision now clears the way for meaningful negotiations on these key issues."
Unite lead officer Kevin McAdam said: "Proposals to enforce a move from weekly pay to monthly pay would have left large numbers of healthcare workers facing an unnecessary squeeze.
"This is a victory for common sense and will be a relief for the many low paid health workers who would have put their finances in turmoil by such a transition."
He continued: "We had informed the minister that we were initiating a ballot of our members on strike action over this issue. There was very widespread and deep opposition to this move being imposed from above.
"This is a victory for the hard work of reps in both unions who have taken their campaign to oppose this needless change to the streets and to the politicians."
Ms O'Neill said: "I have listened to the issues raised by those staff who would have been affected by the change in frequency of pay and decided to retain the current arrangements for weekly and fortnightly paid employees.
"The change in pay frequency would have impacted upon some 12,000 staff, particularly women on lower pay scales. I want to reassure those people that I appreciate their financial concerns and I do not want to add to their pressures."
Paul Maskey welcomed the decision, saying: "The simple reality is, some staff members cannot afford to manage their money on a monthly basis as they do not earn enough. I am delighted the minister has listened to the concerns of the workers and that she has agreed not to implement the change."