Belfast Telegraph

Unions demand extra £16m to end strike action

NHS workers from a picket line at the Belfast City Hospital in Belfast as part of continuing strike action in the health service. Picture by Philip Magowan /PressEye
NHS workers from a picket line at the Belfast City Hospital in Belfast as part of continuing strike action in the health service. Picture by Philip Magowan /PressEye
Mark Edwards

By Mark Edwards

Health unions want another £16m in funding - in addition to the £28m already offered by the Department of Health - to end industrial action.

Healthcare staff across Northern Ireland are in dispute over pay and staffing levels, demanding to be paid the same as their colleagues in the rest of the UK.

On Thursday, the Department of Health made a last-ditch offer of an additional £28m for workers, bringing the total package to £79m. It was rejected by trade unions, who branded it as falling "significantly short" of requirements.

Kevin McAdam, from the Unite union, told BBC Radio Ulster's Evening Extra that the offer did not represent parity of pay with healthcare workers in England, Wales and Scotland.

Mr McAdam said that the 3.1% increase offered was not "new money" but that the funding had been "on the table" during negotiations from July.

Unions, he added, are holding out for a 4.1% increase.

Asked what this increase would represent for workers, he said: "This might be hundreds of pounds to individuals. But hundreds is immaterial. This is about what our members are prepared to accept.

"They saw their counterparts in the other three countries seeing a deal that was agreed by all parties. This involved the Department of Health here.

"This involved the employers. I represented the trade unions in those meeting and I can tell you that our people are entitled to the same as those (in the rest of the UK)."

Mr McAdam was asked about a statement made by Unison representative Anne Speed, who told the Nolan Show on November 14 that an extra £30m in funding would solve the problem.

She said: "The gap is about £30m. That is what has to be found to give us enough and that might secure peace for another year."

Mr McAdam said: "She has explained that she got the figures wrong, that it is not enough.

"What we had yesterday was an offer that was actually on the table and I spoke to a number of the employers' side today to confirm that in July, August, September, that was the figure the department believed they could deliver, 3.1%

"When we got the mandate for industrial action, they changed the offer to 2.1%. Whether in good faith or not, and I doubt that, they offered 3.1%."

Asked whether causing further disruption to an already overstretched health service in Northern Ireland for the sake of hundreds of pounds for workers was worth it, Mr McAdam said: "People want to be back at work, they want to be doing the excessive work they have been doing, giving their all, bring back the goodwill and work together with everyone to get this health service back together."

For years healthcare workers across the UK were paid equally. In late 2014, however, this was ended by the then DUP health minister, Jim Wells, who stated he had to "exercise a degree of restraint" over pay.

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