Belfast Telegraph

Striking health staff demand pay parity regardless of Stormont deal

Thousands of staff have taken to picket lines across Northern Ireland once again.

Elizabeth Nelson, a domestic worker at the Ulster Hospital in Belfast, is one of thousands of health staff on strike (Rebecca Black/PA)
Elizabeth Nelson, a domestic worker at the Ulster Hospital in Belfast, is one of thousands of health staff on strike (Rebecca Black/PA)

By Rebecca Black, PA

Thousands of health workers are staging another day of strike action across Northern Ireland.

Nurses and other staff are calling for pay parity with colleagues across the rest of the United Kingdom as well as an increase to staffing levels.

They gathered at picket lines at hospital sites across the region from 8am on Friday.

Thousands of appointments have been cancelled and a number of hospital and community services are affected by the action.

Members of one of the trade unions involved, Unison, also staged demonstrations at the Department of Health and Stormont House, urging Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith and senior civil servants to “act now and restore pay parity”.

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Health workers take part in strike action at the Ulster Hospital in Belfast. (Rebecca Black/PA)

Reacting to news of the draft deal to restore powersharing announced by Mr Smith and Irish Tanaiste Simon Coveney on Thursday, Unison regional secretary Patricia McKeown said there may be some hope of resolution, but she added: “We are not there yet.

“We await further developments today at Stormont.

“However should the political process fail, we will pursue Julian Smith to act in the public interest, make the resources available and instruct the Department of Health to restore pay parity.

“If the money is there, it should be released without delay.”

At the Ulster Hospital on the outskirts of Belfast, health workers on the picket line included nurses coming off night shift.

Lindsay Thompson, an anaesthetic nurse and steward with the Royal College of Nursing, said those involved hope it will be the last day of strike action.

She told the PA news agency: “We’re here today for the third day of strikes, the feeling at the minute is one of disappointment that we have got to this point but we are hopeful the talks will lead to a resolution, pay parity will be reached and there will be a commitment to safe staffing and workforce planning.”

James Large, a pharmacy technician and branch secretary for Unison, described the mood on the picket lines as “determined”.

He added: “We’re sick of being treated like second-class citizens, a second-class workforce.

“There has been a lot of talk about the draft deal that has been issued by the two governments but our message has been very clear from the start, that we will not tolerate being used as political leverage in any talks process.

“Julian Smith should do the right thing and do it now, resolve this dispute. He stated this morning that the money is there but that it is on the basis of a deal between all the parties.”

Rosaleen Kelly, a nurse taking part in the strike at the Ulster Hospital, said pay parity will help ensure safe staffing levels.

“This is our third day of strike action, RCN balloted its members and had an overwhelming mandate from its members to undertake strike action primarily about safe staffing, having enough staff with the right skills to give the right care that our patients here in every hospital and every service across the north of Ireland deserve,” she said.

“Primarily we want to see enough nurses to do the job that nurses want to do, we need proper planning to make sure that we can recruit enough nurses, train enough nurses and retain enough nurses.

“Making sure that our nurses are paid the same as everyone else across the UK is part of that because that is one of the reasons we haven’t been able to recruit and retain.

“We would like a commitment, a commitment from whoever can give us a commitment at whatever table can make the decisions to say they will absolutely not let nursing get into the crisis situation it is currently in, with nearly 3,000 vacancies across our health and social care services.

“There is a real crisis in terms of properly qualified nurses to undertake the role that we need to do.”

PA

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