Blog: A strike of last resort that’s been forced on members

On a freezing day in Northern Ireland, they walked out for the money they’ve been promised – but are still waiting for

Christina McAnea at the front of a march in Belfast, on a day of strike action. She and others are holding a banner calling for fair pay for public service workers in Northern Ireland

A day of historical strike action took place in Northern Ireland yesterday.

The first walk-outs started at midnight when UNISON’s health members left their hospital workplaces.

I was with community assistant nurses, catering staff, admin staff and health care assistants at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast, as their strike started when the clock struck 12.01.

A few hours later, I joined education staff on their school picket lines along the Falls Road. And on we marched to the Royal Hospital again and into central Belfast, where we met thousands of other striking public sector workers for our joint union rally.

Many health workers stayed behind, providing the emergency cover UNISON always ensures on strike days. They forfeited their right to strike, so that others could protest and rally, without affecting patient safety.

Essential workers shouldn’t have to be out in the freezing cold, demanding the pay they’re owed. But they’ve been forced into it. It’s the failure of politicians to release the £600m that’s already been fought for and won, that’s pushed them to the last resort of strike action.

Until power sharing in Stormont is restored, public sector workers won’t get the money they’ve been promised. Unless of course, the secretary of state, Chris Heaton-Harris, takes action to unlock the funding.

The Westminster government might have given up on the people of Northern Ireland, but UNISON hasn’t. That’s why I was there in Belfast, to show solidarity with our members.

Their frustration is real. Watching colleagues on the other side of the Irish Sea earning more than them for doing the same job, and having governments that they can actually negotiate with, makes them feel left behind.

Northern Ireland’s public services rely on workers staying in the job, but they’ll only stay with decent pay, pay parity and recognition for the essential work they do.

The message was clear from the streets of Belfast and from picket lines across Northern Ireland, Mr Heaton-Harris must release the money. Until we get that result, UNISON’s determination will not falter.