Unison to ballot for strike
Workers could stage walkout in row over budget cuts
Thousands of health and education workers across Northern Ireland are to be balloted on strike action in October.
Nurses, hospital and school cleaners, teaching assistants, physiotherapists, radiographers, community care workers and administrative staff could stage a one-day walkout in a row over budget cuts.
Public sector union Unison served official notice to employers in the health and education sectors of its intention to ballot members for strike action at the end of last week.
Patricia McKeown, Unison regional secretary, said: "Across Northern Ireland our members report that they are working under increasingly impossible conditions. It's never been more necessary for Unison members to stand together to fight for jobs and services and force employers to listen."
The move could force some schools to shut their doors while clinics, pre-planned operations and vital community services may also be suspended.
It is thought other unions could follow as anger builds over a £300m and £2.3bn shortfall in the education sector and health service respectively over the next four years.
News of the ballot comes as NIPSA, a non-teaching union which represents classroom assistants, technicians, secretariat, support staff and IT, also threaten industrial action.
Ms McKeown said health and education employees have been hit with compulsory redundancies, pay freezes, unpaid work and increased health and safety risks.
"Compulsory redundancies in schools reached new levels last term, while in health 2,000 posts were wiped out on April 1, and the worst is yet come," she said.
"Health and education services are now facing the biggest budget cuts in their history."
Ms McKeown said members working in a range of school services, including meals, cleaning, secretaries and crossing patrols, are being hardest hit by the cuts.
She said music therapy for children with special needs has already been withdrawn and the number of classroom assistants are being cut "at an alarming rate".
Hospitals, day centres and residential homes are also in crisis, said Ms McKeown.
"Nurses, domestics, porters, caterers and administration staff are working without proper cover and back up," she explained.
"Home care workers have been especially hard hit - up to 70% of their work has been outsourced to the private sector, most often on minimum wage.
"Social workers at all grades are reporting impossible case loads. Health workers are reporting increased stress and breaches of codes and standards."
Unison could be the first of a series of unions to threaten strike action in a row over public budget sector cuts. NIPSA is to meet Education Minister John O'Dowd today to discuss fears that there could be 1,000 job losses - not including teaching posts - in the education sector over the next four years. If the dispute is not resolved, the union will ballot members for industrial action.