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Royal College of Nursing to ballot members on industrial action over 'insulting' one-off pay rise

By Victoria O'Hara

The Royal College of Nursing has held an emergency board meeting in response to a pay award which unions have described as an insult.

They are now to ballot members on taking industrial action short of a strike.

Health Minister Simon Hamilton said the majority of healthcare workers, including nurses, would receive a one-off payment.

The 1% increase would result in about an extra £300 for the majority of nurses, with a maximum of £985. The rise, however, is non-consolidated, which means it is a one-off bonus which will not necessarily be included in next year's salary. The RCN has said the increase should be added to salaries as has been the case in other parts of the UK and added that nurses in Northern Ireland are worse off than their counterparts in England and Scotland.

However, Mr Hamilton defended the move saying that he faced "difficult financial circumstances".

Mr Hamilton accused unions of a "poor performance" in negotiations and a 1% increase would equate to about £300 for most nurses.

He also said it is a fair deal and the 1% pay rise across the health service would cost his department £40m. Mr Hamilton said his officials had sought to engage with union leaders on a 2015-16 settlement since January 4, 2015 and claimed unions weren't prepared to engage in a "serious way". He said: "I would have preferred an agreed settlement but when I met recently with trade union representatives they unfortunately remained unwilling to move beyond seeking to reopen last year's settlement, despite it having been paid into people's accounts many months ago and with their union colleagues across the water having moved ahead and focused on 2015-16." "The pay demands made by the trade unions would cost my department's budget close to £40m and are simply unaffordable in the current circumstances."

But according to the RCN, nurses here are paid £279 a year less than in England, and £561 less than in Scotland.

Janice Smyth, Director of the Royal College of Nursing in Northern Ireland, said: "Nurses are angry and frustrated that the minister has singled out nurses when the pay award applies to 50,000 health and social care staff and perceive that he has blatantly misrepresented the situation in relation to nurses' pay. The trade unions wrote to Simon Hamilton on May 15, 2015 requesting a meeting. A meeting scheduled for September was cancelled, rescheduled and took place on December 16. The Royal College of Nursing is disappointed at the lack of leadership and respect demonstrated by the minister in relation to HSC staff pay."

It comes after it emerged that nurses are jetting out of Northern Ireland to work in England at weekends where they can earn triple the hourly rate here- up to £600 for two shifts.

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