Northern Ireland is stepping closer to a crippling strike by nurses after it emerged the Government wanted to give them a 1% pay rise.
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has taken steps to ensure members will be financially compensated if they decide to act over the offer, which would see experienced nurses walking away with an extra £3.50 a week.
It is the latest blow for thousands of nurses left traumatised and exhausted after putting their lives at risk for the last 12 months during the pandemic.
Pat Cullen, director of the RCN in Northern Ireland, described the proposed pay hike as “insulting” and said health bosses were “dangerously out of touch” with nurses and public opinion.
It emerged on Thursday that England’s Department of Health wanted to award nurses a mere 1% pay rise because of the financial impact of the pandemic.
The figure was contained in a submission to the NHS Pay Review Body, which advises on the wages of health service staff.
Health Minister Robin Swann previously said he must award the same rise to local nurses.
The Belfast Telegraph asked Mr Swann if he agreed with the increase and if he would be willing to break with pay parity.
A spokeswoman from the Department of Health said: “Any decision on a pay award for Northern Ireland workers will be taken after the pay review bodies make their recommendations. We do not intend to pre-empt those recommendations.
“Our pay award decisions can only be taken in the context of a wider public sector pay policy set by the Department of Finance.”
But Ms Cullen said: “Nursing staff will be feeling insulted by the suggestion that they are only worth a 1% pay rise.
“It is clear (the Government) is dangerously out of touch with nursing staff, other health care workers and the public.
“While the Pay Review Body will make its own recommendation, our members have already been voicing their outrage.
“The RCN has been clear that this year, of all years, we need a significant and fair pay rise.
“An additional £3.50 a week for an experienced nurse is by no means fair and will do nothing to prevent an exodus from the profession. It is a political decision to underfund and undervalue nursing staff.
“Our members will not shy away from voicing their concerns. As a result of this announcement, the RCN Council convened an emergency meeting, voting unanimously and immediately to set up a £35m industrial action fund.”
Strike funds are used to provide compensation for workers during industrial action.
The RCN said it was determined to have the finances available to members should they wish to take action.
Covid-19 hit Northern Ireland weeks after healthcare workers suspended strike action over pay and dangerous staffing levels.
Local NHS employees have been growing increasingly frustrated in recent months over what is seen as a failure by Stormont to act on their concerns.
It emerged last week that legislation to address dangerous nursing levels would not be passed by the current Assembly.
Stormont made a deal with healthcare workers last January that it would implement safe staffing laws to bring about a pause in industrial action.
However, the chief nursing officer said there was now not enough time for the law to be passed.
This came after healthcare workers waited almost nine months for the Department of Health to return pay docked from wages during strike action.