Northern Ireland healthcare union can’t rule out pay strike
Northern Ireland's largest healthcare union has said it cannot rule out strike action in the face of growing anger over pay and conditions.
Unison represents 27,000 health service workers in Northern Ireland and is calling for pay parity with the rest of the UK and an end to one-year pay deals, branding the practice "demoralising" for staff.
It is the latest union to threaten strike action as negotiations with health bosses get under way.
The Belfast Telegraph revealed on Saturday that the Royal College of Nursing said a walk out by its 15,000 members is a possibility.
And yesterday a retired nurse said he had raised concerns over pay as far back as the 1970s.
However, a Stormont source has said there is no cash available to meet the unions' demands.
They said: "The health service is faced with no minister, no Executive, no Assembly and very tight single year budgets.
"There's a reason the department keeps saying it can't spend money it doesn't have.
"It's a big ask money-wise just to maintain existing services - to keep the lights on."
Anne Speed, head of bargaining and representation at Unison, said: "We will continue talks until June, at which point we will be going to our members with the position and there will be a decision-making process over the summer period.
"We could be in the position that we are going to have to fight by September and we will fight this all the way.
"There is no doubt that if we fail to come to an agreement that the industrial relations landscape is going to get difficult, to say the least.
"It's the responsibility of our politicians to find the money and to make it available, to fight for the health service in Northern Ireland and we expect them to put up a fight."
Ms Speed said the union will fight for pay parity for all of its members over the coming months.
"We will leave no-one behind," she said.
"We have thousands of nurses and we agree with the RCN that there are real pressure points in the profession.
"Our nurses are having the same experiences as the ones being discussed by the RCN, but we also represent many other staff within the health service and we will fight for parity across the board."
According to Unison, band two staff in Northern Ireland are paid £1,440 less than their counterparts in Scotland.
Yesterday a former male nurse contacted the BBC's Nolan Show to say pay concerns dated back decades.
He said: "Colleagues and I wrote to the local papers about this back in the 1970s, when the matron of the Royal Victoria Hospital was getting the same pay as a policeman who had taken his sergeant's exam.
"So an ordinary police constable, who had taken an exam to become a sergeant, was getting the same amount of money as a matron responsible for over 1,100 nurses."
A Department of Health spokeswoman said: "Health and social care pay policy is a devolved issue.
"We have made clear that UK-wide pay parity in health and social care would involve significant budgetary and pay policy issues that would require ministerial and cross-departmental decisions."