Industrial action on horizon as nurses' union meets Health Minister over pay
A top nurses' union is to hold a meeting with Health Minister Simon Hamilton as it threatens to ballot on industrial action for the first time in its history.
The RCN said it had been "ignored" by the minister over an ongoing pay row.
But Mr Hamilton claimed it was the union that had failed to engage with representatives from the Department of Health.
Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK where a pay deal has not been secured.
The RCN said that, as a result, nurses here were at least 10% worse off in real terms than they were in 2008.
Ahead of today's meeting Janice Smyth, director of the RCN in Northern Ireland, hit back at the minister's claim that the body had not engaged with the department.
"The RCN rejects the Department of Health's claim that the health unions have refused to negotiate a pay award," she insisted.
"The independent pay review body has recommended a 1% pay award for nurses."
Ms Smyth claimed the RCN and other health unions had lodged a pay claim on June 23.
"The Department of Health eventually responded on August 13," she said. "A meeting with the minister was scheduled for September 11 and then subsequently cancelled due to the resignation of the minister, along with his DUP colleagues in the Executive.
"To date, the RCN has had no direct contact with the Health Minister in relation to pay. We look forward to today's meeting and hope the minister will be in a position to honour his responsibility to meet the independent pay review body's recommendation.
"If this sense of optimism proves to be misguided, nurses in Northern Ireland will decide for themselves on the steps they wish to take to secure a settlement."
Unison representative Anne Speed added: "The fact that workers in the health service in Northern Ireland are now the poorest paid in the health service is intolerable."
The Health Minister's spokesman previously said Mr Hamilton valued "the essential role that nurses play in the continued provision of a high standard of care in Northern Ireland".