UNISON is balloting health service workers in Northern Ireland from today (Monday) over possible industrial action in its campaign to close the unfair pay gap with NHS staff in other parts of the UK.
The union has been in discussions with the Department of Health (Northern Ireland) and Northern Ireland employers for the past eight months to bring staff into line with the NHS pay deals operating in England, Scotland and Wales.
However, progress has stalled and staff are stepping up their efforts to be rewarded fairly, says UNISON. They will be voting over the next three weeks on whether to take industrial action and action short of a strike.
Pay increases were not always awarded at the same level as the rest of the UK by the devolved government in Northern Ireland, says UNISON.
NHS workers in Northern Ireland have only had a one-year deal of between 1.5 – 3% imposed last year, while other parts of the NHS were awarded three-year pay deals.
A nurse or paramedic in Scotland for example takes home £24,670 a year and £24,214 in England or Wales. This compares with £22,795 for an NHS worker in Northern Ireland doing the same job.
The Department of Health has said it does not have enough money to pay NHS employees. But UNISON says millions are being spent on agency staff so there is money to give staff the pay rise they are long overdue.
UNISON Northern Ireland head of bargaining Anne Speed said: “Employees in Glasgow, Birmingham or Cardiff shouldn’t be valued more than those in Belfast, Newry or Ballymena. Health staff in Northern Ireland shouldn’t be left behind.
“The failure to maintain decent pay is causing a crisis in the health service. The workforce needed to deliver proper care simply can’t be recruited or retained.
“The Department of Health is being penny wise and pound foolish. They’re spending millions on agency staff, which could be used instead to pay permanent staff fairly.
“The health service’s future will only be secure when there’s the investment in pay that is so badly needed.’’
Notes to editors:
– Around two thirds of UNISON’s 40,000 members in Northern Ireland work in health and social services.
– The ballot opens on 21 October and closed on 11 November.
– Health and social care workers in Northern Ireland are the lowest paid under the Agenda for Change system which sets NHS pay grades UK-wide. This has been as a result of the devolved government not implementing the pay awards received in England, Scotland and Wales.
– Examples of the deficit (annual pay rates)
Porters and cleaners
England & Wales £17,652
Northern Ireland £16,943
Health care assistant
England & Wales £18,813
Northern Ireland £17,406
Administrative worker (e.g. medical secretary)
England & Wales £21,089
Northern Ireland £19,951
Nurses and paramedics
England & Wales £24,214
Northern Ireland £22,795
Senior nursing staff
England & Wales £30,401
Northern Ireland £27,772
– UNISON is the UK’s largest union, with more than 1.3 million members providing public services – in education, local government, the NHS, police service and energy. They are employed in both the public and private sectors.