Belfast Telegraph

A winter of discontent, and the workers who support it

Health and education unions prepared for action as six people on the front line speak out about job fears

By Lisa Smyth

Public sector unions could shut schools and hospitals across the province in a row over cuts to education and health budgets.

A winter of discontent seems more likely than ever after crunch talks with the Education minister failed to stop union Nipsa from balloting members on industrial action.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has also said its members will not accept any move to axe pay parity with the rest of the UK as health chiefs look for increasingly controversial ways to make savings.

Unison has sent out ballot papers to members to vote on a one-day strike in October, while Nipsa is now preparing to inform employers of its intention to ballot members on industrial action up to and including a walk-out.

It is understood the unions intend to co-ordinate any action to ensure maximum impact.

Both unions represent hospital and school cleaners, teaching assistants, community care workers and administrative staff.

In addition, Unison also represents physiotherapists, radiographers and more than 10,000 nurses.

Patricia McKeown, Unison regional secretary, said members are working under increasingly impossible conditions.

The union claims:

  • Patients are being put at risk of infection because of a lack of uniforms.
  • Nurses without sufficient experience are expected to care for gravely ill patients.
  • Domestic staff are not getting enough time to clean wards.
  • Only two porters cover the entire Royal Victoria Hospital site during lunch breaks.

Ms McKeown said: "Enough is enough, this is not just about jobs, this is about protecting the services the public rely on."

Following a meeting with Education Minister John O'Dowd to discuss concerns over education cuts, Nipsa assistant secretary Paddy Mackel said: "Members shouldn't be forced to pay for a crisis which wasn't of their making. Our members have had enough.

"They are becoming increasingly angry at the expectation that they should just take on additional work from colleagues who have been made redundant."

Garrett Martin, deputy director of the RCN in Northern Ireland, said to date members have never taken industrial action and would not consider taking such a decision lightly.

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