Belfast Telegraph

Unions 'optimistic' after multimillion package offer from health minister Robin Swann

Health Minister Robin Swann with medical staff during a visit to the Antrim Area Hospital, Northern Ireland. Picture: Michael Cooper
Health Minister Robin Swann with medical staff during a visit to the Antrim Area Hospital, Northern Ireland. Picture: Michael Cooper

Unions have said they're optimistic following a "breakthrough" offer from Health Minister Robin Swann to resolve concerns around pay parity and safe staffing.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) in Northern Ireland has called an extraordinary meeting of its board on Thursday and said they're waiting for formal communication from the minister as they decide whether to continue with industrial action.

Kevin McAdam from Unite said his union will also meet on Thursday to consider the new offer.

It comes as Mr Swann announced a £110million funding package in a bid to avert further healthcare strikes across Northern Ireland.

The money, which Mr Swann said is coming from existing funds, is being offered in a bid to avoid further strike action from unions.

It amounts to £79m towards pay parity for health workers and an extra £30m from existing Stormont finances.

He said his department will provide a written commitment for immediate high-level engagement with unions to produce a costed implementation plan on safe staffing within an agreed short period.

Health unions have been striking over pay parity and staffing levels, which they say are unsafe.

In a statement, an RCN spokesperson said: "On receipt of this correspondence, the suspension of strike action scheduled for next week may be proposed," the RCN said.

"We are pleased that the minister has listened carefully and responded quickly to our concerns, and that the situation in relation to pay parity has now been resolved.

"We are also satisfied that real progress has been made in relation to safe staffing and recruitment and retention of nursing staff.

"The minister has committed to a costed implementation plan for safe staffing within an agreed short period. There is a long way to go and we will work closely with the minister and Department of Health to find a sustainable way forward."

Head of bargaining for the Unison health workers' union Anne Speed said: "We genuinely hope that justice for our members and patients alike is imminent.

"Their courage and tenacity has put the health and wellbeing of the people of Northern Ireland at the heart of a new political agenda.

"We remain optimistic that an agreement can be reached and that our dispute can be resolved."

Speaking to BBC Radio Ulster, Kevin McAdam from Unite welcomed Tuesday's developments.

"It gives us what we've been fighting for on the picket line in terms of pay parity. We will bring it back to our Unite people and they will decide.

"What we need to do now is to work through the detail of the pay parity and make sure we're on the same page and deal with the proposals on safe staffing."

Mr McAdam said a meeting with senior union members on Thursday will look to suspend ongoing strike action by healthcare workers - a development he said has been hard won.

"I've been at this for two years and it took us to go out on the street and it's a disgrace it took us that far. But I welcome what's happened now," he said.

"We had a positive briefing with [Robin Swann] this morning and he's a breath of fresh air in the post. I look forward to working with him."

Two previous offers had been made by the department to end the dispute but were rejected by trade unions.

In December the department offered a 3.1% increase in overall pay and an additional £38m was made available to the health service.

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