Belfast Telegraph

Ulster NHS strike will go ahead

A strike by health workers in Northern Ireland will definitely go ahead tomorrow after hopes of a last minute agreement collapsed.

Unions said a proposed pay deal for staff in England drawn up after lengthy talks with the Government in Westminster had not been matched by the Department of Health in Northern Ireland.

Thousands of staff, including ambulance workers, will now go on strike from 9am tomorrow.

The GMB said its members in the NHS will take action for 12 hours from 9am, while ambulance staff will walk out for 12 hours from 12 noon.

A strike planned by NHS staff in England was suspended so union members could be consulted on a new offer.

The GMB expressed "surprise and disappointment" that the deal hammered out between unions and the coalition Government to avoid strike action tomorrow had not been approved by the Northern Ireland government.

Michael Mulholland, GMB regional officer, said: "The response from the department puts us back to square one. On that basis GMB and Unite members will take strike action tomorrow.

"There is no confirmation that the pay offer for NHS staff in England will be applied in full as has been the practice for over 60 years. Instead we are invited to make reference to it in the discussions we have been offered. There is also no pay offer on the table for 2014/15.

"This is moving the goal posts and is totally unacceptable.

"NHS workers are furious and the public will want to know why the Department of Health is not putting the offer in England on the table as they are expected to do. "

Meanwhile it was revealed that Unison is to ballot its members in Northern Ireland for industrial action over pay.

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.

The Health Department spokesman added: "C ontingency arrangements are in place if strike action is taken in Northern Ireland to ensure that patient safety is not compromised."

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