Health and social care workers have voted for industrial action.
Unison is the largest union in the health and social services system in Northern Ireland. Its membership covers all health workers with the exception of doctors. Its largest occupational groups are in nursing, social care and support services.
A spokesman for Unison said the ballot concentrated on the main issues of pay justice and safe staffing levels, and said the absence of both has been a key contributing factor in the now ‘crisis level’ in waiting lists and waiting times for patients across Northern Ireland.
The spokesman said Unisons’ elected representatives across the health system will meet on Friday (November 15) to finalise details for a comprehensive industrial action plan.
The plan includes strike action and other forms of industrial action across the system and will become operational once the action is approved by the UNISON Executive. In any event we anticipate the first action before the end of November 2019.
Patricia McKeown, Unison regional secretary, said the message from Unison members is clear. They are no longer prepared to accept the lowest pay levels in the UK, the greatest number of frontline vacancies and the highest waiting lists. And that the attitude of the Department of Health and those currently running the service has been one of disregard for the intolerable conditions our members are working under and disrespect for the patients queuing for the health care they urgently require. She said:
‘Health workers do not take industrial action lightly but they have been pushed to the brink.
‘Responsibility for averting this critical situation lies with the Department of Health, the Head of the NI Civil Service and the Department of Finance.
‘They must access the funding necessary to resolve the pay problem and begin to address safe staffing levels as a matter of extreme urgency. Their current proposals are rejected by us as wholly inadequate’
It comes after nurses in Northern Ireland voted to strike last week – the first time in the Royal College of Nursing’s (RCN) 103-year-history that such action has been taken in the UK.
RCN Northern Ireland director Pat Cullen said the health and social care system in Northern Ireland is at risk of moving from crisis to collapse. She said:
‘Nursing staff in Northern Ireland have spoken clearly and collectively on behalf of patients and the people of Northern Ireland.
‘Nurses are no longer willing to see patients being denied the healthcare services to which they are entitled. The 3,000 nursing vacancies that currently exist within the HSC are having a detrimental impact on patient care and adding enormous pressure to the existing nursing workforce, who are doing everything they can to care for patients.
‘Nurses’ pay in Northern Ireland has fallen significantly behind that in the rest of the UK. Not only is this completely unfair but it sends a strong message to nurses that they are not valued or respected by decision-makers and employers.
‘Equally importantly, it makes it difficult to recruit and retain the nurses that we desperately need to provide healthcare to the people of Northern Ireland. If we continue to treat nurses in this way, the health and social care system in Northern Ireland will move rapidly from crisis to collapse.’
RCN chief executive and general secretary Dame Donna Kinnair said nurses can see the risk to patient safety from staff shortages. She said:
‘This is a day we had hoped not to reach, and the first time RCN members have voted to strike in our 103 year history. We did not take the decision to ballot members lightly.
‘But the fact that nurses in Northern Ireland have now voted so overwhelmingly for industrial action, including strike action, shows how clearly they can see the risk to patient safety from staff shortages.
‘In addition, the fact that the real value of nurses’ pay in Northern Ireland has fallen by around 15% in the last eight years is a fundamental unfairness that must be urgently addressed. Patients hugely value the care nursing staff provide, but it’s clear that health service leaders in Northern Ireland do not.
‘This overwhelming result is a tribute to the hard work undertaken by RCN members and staff in Northern Ireland. Our governing Council will now meet to approve plans to take forward industrial action, including strike action, in Northern Ireland’.
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