Ulster health strike 'to go ahead'
A strike by health workers in Northern Ireland is set to go ahead on Thursday despite a proposed pay deal drawn up after lengthy talks between unions and the Government in Westminster.
A walkout planned by NHS staff in England was suspended so union members could be consulted on a new offer. But it emerged tonight that the same deal had not been approved in Northern Ireland.
The GMB union expressed "surprise and disappointment" that the deal hammered out between unions and the coalition Government to avoid strike action on Thursday had not yet been approved by the Northern Ireland government.
As a result Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK facing a day of NHS strike action on Thursday.
Michael Mulholland, GMB regional officer, said : "It is irresponsible of minister Jim Wells to ignore the strike on Thursday across the NHS and ambulance service in Northern Ireland. NHS workers in Northern Ireland will be furious at this insult and the public will want to know why the minister isn't on top of the situation."
A spokesperson for the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety said: "The Department is of course pleased that the unions have called off their industrial action in England. We note the mutual agreement which has been reached which, significantly, will not risk frontline jobs and will not involve any increased cost to the taxpayer.
"Although the arrangements for 2014/15 are settled, we have previously indicated to trade union colleagues locally that we are willing to discuss an affordable pay settlement going forward within the parameters of the current cost envelope."
The offer drawn up in Westminster includes a consolidated 1% pay rise for all staff up to senior level and an additional £200 payment for lower paid staff.
There is also a commitment from the Government to the NHS Pay Review Body and that it will continue to make future recommendations on pay rises for NHS staff in 2016/17.
Unison's head of health Christina McAnea said: "The two strike days staged by health workers last year have moved the Government to negotiate with the unions.
"This isn't a great offer but it addresses some of the key concerns unions have about low pay in the NHS. In the interest of patients' safety unions will now consult members.
"It will be up to members to decide whether to accept or reject the proposals. If they choose to reject them we will move to further industrial action."
She said the offer means that more than 250,000 of the lowest paid workers in the NHS will get a pay increase of between 2.2% and 5.6% next year.