Belfast Telegraph

Trade union leader calls for 'urgent' meeting with Julian Smith on health and welfare issues in Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith (Liam McBurney/PA)
Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith (Liam McBurney/PA)

By Eimear McGovern

The leader of the trade union movement in Ireland has written to the Secretary of State to request a meeting to discuss health service issues.

ICTU Assistant General Secretary Owen Reidy wrote to Julian Smith on behalf of the Northern Ireland Committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions.

It represents over 200,000 workers across 24 unions in Northern Ireland.

In response, a UK Government spokesperson said decisions on pay and conditions for healthcare staff are devolved issues.

Healthcare workers are engaged in an industrial dispute over pay parity with the rest of the UK which has entered its second week. Health officials have warned of disruption to services this week.

Further action is planned by Unison and the Royal College of Nursing with a walk out on December 18 predicted to cause major disruption.

Mr Reidy said: "We require the secretary of state to pay his full attention to these matters, as time is a luxury we no longer have.

"Health workers are already taking unprecedented industrial action in certain trade unions, and other associations for health professionals are preparing to ballot their members in unions which have long eschewed strikes and action short of strikes, such as working-to-rule.

"Simply passing the buck between Stormont and Her Majesty’s Treasury is no longer acceptable."

In response, a UK Government spokesperson said Julian Smith is "very concerned" about the impact the industrial action is having on people in Northern Ireland.

"That is why he has sought to support the dialogue between the Northern Ireland Civil Service and the unions involved, and he will continue to do what he can to bring this dispute to a resolution," they added.

“Decisions on pay and conditions for health care staff and other issues are taken by the devolved administration. It is his sincere hope that agreement can be found quickly, and to that end he has offered to be available in the coming days to support in any way that he can."

The health unions rejected a partial pay increase offer following talks with Mr Smith on Thursday after which Department of Health permanent secretary Richard Pengelly said he did not have the authority to restore full parity.

Mr Reidy said the crisis in the health service is not an isolated phenomenon, saying the same pressures are building in schools and the civil service and have already erupted in the universities.

He called on Mr Smith to also take into account the end of mitigations to Universal Credit in March.

"Mr Smith needs to take cognisance of the looming cliff-edge facing thousands of people dependent on Universal Credit, which include substantial numbers of the working poor, and who face financial ruin after the mitigations negotiated under the Fresh Start Agreement expire at the end of March.

"We in the trade union movement insist that no worker is abandoned, and that the promises made about the ending of austerity are made in good faith, and are not additionally being held hostage to negotiations to restore Stormont. We look forward to hearing from the Secretary of State."

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