Unions reject pay offer aimed at ending NI health dispute

Nurses and support workers engaged in industrial action over pay, staffing levels

(Left to right) Anne Speed of Unison, Kevin McAdam of Unite and Maria Morgan from Nipsa outside Stormont in Belfast. Photograph: Rebecca Black/PA Wire.

(Left to right) Anne Speed of Unison, Kevin McAdam of Unite and Maria Morgan from Nipsa outside Stormont in Belfast. Photograph: Rebecca Black/PA Wire.


Trade unions representing nurses and health workers in Northern Ireland have rejected an offer of additional pay from the Department of Health aimed at resolving the industrial dispute which has led to the cancellation of thousands of appointments this week.

Anne Speed of Unison, which represents the unions involved in the action, said the offer totalling £28 million was “insufficient”. Nurses and other support staff have been taking part in industrial action over pay and staffing levels.

Trade union negotiators met the North’s Secretary of State and the department on Thursday. The three-hour meeting between representatives from Unite, NIPSA, Unison and the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) in Northern Ireland and the department ended without agreement.

“The department has presented a new position, trade unions have jointly agreed this remains insufficient and falls short of our members’ requirements and mandate that they have given us,” Ms Speed said. “Industrial action continues and joint planned trade union action remains in place for December 18th.”

In a statement, the permanent secretary at the department Richard Pengelly said trade unions were asked to consider suspending industrial action to facilitate negotiations on the additional £28 million pay offer for 2019/20.

“It is a matter of great regret that the unions have taken this position, indicating that industrial action will now escalate,” he said.

“This will impact significantly on patient care in an already very challenging period for the health service.

“We have made a sizeable new offer. In the absence of ministers, this is the furthest I am able to go. It is therefore the final offer for this year.”

Mr Pengelly said he accepted that the offer had not addressed everything the trade unions wanted, but that would “require a minister and longer term budgetary certainty”.

Northern Ireland has been without a devolved government for almost three years following the collapse in January 2017 of powersharing amid a row over a botched renewable heating scheme.

In a statement, the Health and Social Care Board said it sincerely apologised “for the distress and anxiety caused to all those patients, service users and family members who have been or may be affected by the industrial action.

“Industrial action is expected to continue and regrettably will cause further disruption across all services, including cancellations of planned appointments and treatment.”

Up-to-date information for patients is available on the Health and Social Care Board’s website www.hscboard.hscni.net