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Pay docked from striking Northern Ireland health workers to be reinstated

Peter Weir

Three days' pay taken from striking health service workers in Northern Ireland will be reinstated, Stormont's Deputy First Minister said.

Nurses left hospital bedsides in a campaign for pay parity with other parts of the UK and what unions said were safer staffing levels.

They have been on the front line of the response to the Covid-19 outbreak which is beginning to spread rapidly across the region.

Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill said staff walked out in January in a bid to create a health service able to respond to a crisis like the coronavirus.

She added: "We hope that sends out a clear message in terms of our recognition of those workers who work on our behalf."

First Minister Arlene Foster said the abuse of shopworkers was "disgusting".

She praised front line healthcare workers, teachers stepping forward to look after the children of key workers, home bakeries, restaurants and shop workers.

"I was told today in one of my local chemist shops that workers were being abused because they didn't have hand sanitisers available," she said.

"Now I have to say these abusers need to be called out, the behaviour is disgusting. I will not stand for it and I will call out selfishness and abusive behaviour whenever I see it."

Conflicting messages about school closures next week have angered some parents.

Mrs Foster said that schools here are being "repurposed" to provide online planning and resource packs.

Ministers are asking schools to remain open for staff next week to allow them to prepare for remote learning and ensure provision for vulnerable children and key workers' youngsters up to the end of Year 10.

A list of key workers whose children will need to be provided for while they are working includes healthcare, nursery and teaching staff, members of the police, fire and prison services and those keeping public transport and the electric network operating.

Children whose parents work in food distribution are also a priority, according to a document published on the education department's website.

Mrs Foster said schools were being repurposed and "unfortunately the educational work that goes on has come to an end".

She added: "They will provide online planning and resource packs."

Teachers, principals and parents have called for clarity around school closures from Monday. Education Minister Peter Weir has said the schools are only being opened to key workers who cannot find alternative childcare arrangements.

He added: "I recognise that some schools will be ready on Monday and some need further time to prepare. I would ask you all to consider only sending your child to school if there are no other viable arrangements; schools should be open to vulnerable children or those who have a parent/carer who is a key worker in relation to dealing with the Covid-19 response."

Both parents/carers do not have to be key workers.

The education minister added: "By Monday, we will have a reasonable indication of the take-up of this scheme by key workers."

The Department of Education said at this stage it is "not possible to assess with accuracy what the numbers will be. The situation will be monitored closely and further guidance will follow."

Belfast Telegraph