Northern Ireland health workers suspend strike and vote on government pay offer

Union thanks public for unwavering support

UNISON health workers in Northern Ireland have today (16th January) agreed to suspend strike action and ballot staff on whether to accept an improved government pay deal.

UNISON’s health leadership met to consider a framework agreement in relation to the long running industrial dispute on pay parity and safe staffing in the health service.

The agreement was reached last night after intensive negotiations between the trade union group and the department of health.

UNISON General Secretary Dave Prentis said: “Our members in Northern Ireland have not only achieved pay parity against great odds, they have won the support and respect of the people of Northern Ireland by their determination to stand up for the rights of patients and health workers alike.

“There can be little doubt that the sustained industrial action, dominating headlines for seven weeks, forced a response from both the UK government and the main Northern Ireland political parties that has resulted in the restoration of devolved government and reinstatement of the health service to the top of the political agenda.

“I take great pride in extending congratulations to them from everyone in UNISON. I take particular pride in the fact that our members, who have worked tirelessly to protect the peace process over the past 20 years, were the catalyst for the return of power sharing and what we all hope is the start of a new era of rights and equality for all.

“Our members from right across the community in Northern Ireland have delivered for all the people. Now it’s up to the politicians to do the same.”

UNISON head of bargaining Anne Speed, the lead trade union negotiator said: “UNISON representatives from across all health trusts, and health service agencies and bodies, have now considered a proposed framework agreement to resolve our industrial dispute.

“The agreement has been endorsed by the health minister and restores pay parity with health workers in England, backdated to 1 April 2019. It also sets out a funded framework for safe staffing.

“We are now balloting our membership with a recommendation to accept. Our industrial action is suspended for the duration of the ballot.”

UNISON Northern Ireland regional secretary Patricia McKeown said: “While we are heartened that our new health minister and the executive have kept their word, there are two groups in this society that really deserve the credit for getting us close to the resolution of this dispute – our members who have shown incredible determination and compassion – and the public, who’ve been unswerving in their support.

“Over the past seven weeks our 26,000 members in the health service have each played a crucial role in the action. Thousands of them have also taken direct strike action at great personal cost.

“No one simply walked away and closed the door behind them. Instead they spent weeks engaging with their employers on the detailed work of ensuring emergency cover and protection for the most vulnerable patients.

“The public have supported them throughout, despite enduring thousands of cancellations in a health system bursting at the seams. They understood that someone had to call a halt to the rapid decline of our vital health and social services system. On behalf of all UNISON members I extend our heartfelt gratitude to them.

“There’s no doubt this dispute put incredible pressure on our elected politicians. That it was cynically used as leverage by the UK government is also self-evident. The dispute has played a critical role in the return of devolved government and it has rightfully placed the health and wellbeing of the people of Northern Ireland back to the top of the political agenda.

‘We believe that we will have a positive response from our members to the offer. We are determined to get back to the core business of tending to the health needs of our people. This time we expect to be listened to and to play a full role in rebuilding our health service for the future.”

Notes to editors:
For further information, please contact:
Patricia McKeown: 07802539096
Anne Speed: 07904427133
John Patrick Clayton: 07508080386
UNISON Regional Centre: 02890270190