Northern Ireland Nurses Call Pre-Christmas Strike

Peter Russell

November 14, 2019

Nurses in Northern Ireland announced dates of industrial action beginning in the run-up to Christmas in a dispute over staffing and pay.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) named Tuesday 3rd December as the first day of industrial action, with nurses set to stage a 12-hour strike on Monday 18th December.

The RCN said it was the first time it had balloted members on taking industrial action in its 103 year history. It blamed the Department of Health for failing to address a "safe staffing and pay crisis" in Northern Ireland.

The Department said it was "focussed on finding a way forward" and was finalising a formal pay offer for 2019 to 2020.

RCN members working in health and social care services in Northern Ireland were balloted from early October over whether to take industrial action, including strike action. Some 96% of members who returned their ballot papers voted to take industrial action, and 92% voted to take strike action.

Members Said 'Enough Is Enough'

Pay for nursing staff within the health service in Northern Ireland continued to fall behind England, Scotland, and Wales, according to the RCN, which said the real value of nurses' pay in the province fell by 15% over the last 8 years.

Additionally, there were almost 3000 unfilled nursing posts across the system, with a similar level of vacancies estimated in nursing homes, it said.

The RCN said that no nurse wanted to take industrial action but that members had "very clearly told us that enough is enough".

Two further dates of industrial action, short of strike action, would take place on Tuesday 10th and Wednesday 11th December, the RCN announced.

Pat Cullen, director of the RCN in Northern Ireland, said: "RCN Council has now approved a schedule of industrial action and strike action. Regrettably this will begin before the Christmas period.

"The first 2 weeks of action will be industrial action followed by our first day of strike on 18th December.

"We are now putting plans in place to determine how this will be managed and delivered."

Four Days of Industrial Action Before Christmas

The RCN said that during the days of industrial action, short of strike action, its members would decline tasks that were not directly patient-specific.

These included:

  • Working no bank, overtime or agency shifts on days of industrial action

  • Not working unpaid hours

  • Not completing paper work other than individual patient records

  • Not preparing or cleaning empty beds when a patient was discharged

  • Not accompanying patients to tests and investigations unless there was an identified clinical requirement

  • Not answering telephones at ward level

  • No administrative tasks

  • Not collecting prescriptions or pharmacy in the community

  • Not collecting or delivering blood samples in the community

  • Not attending meetings including bed management or bed co-ordination meetings

  • Not attending any regional or local meetings or conferences, or non-mandatory training

Budgetary Pressures

In a statement on nurses' pay, the Department of Health promised it would make the "best offer possible within the budget available" but added that "the reality is that our ability to address pay issues is inevitably constrained at a time of intense budgetary pressures for health and social care services".

The RCN also announced 11 days of targeted strike action between January and March next year.

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