Northern Ireland Nurses Suspend Strike Action

Tim Locke

January 16, 2020

The promise of pay parity with England has prompted the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) and the health union UNISON in Northern Ireland to suspend more planned strikes. 

The historic campaign of industrial action over pay and patient safety began while the devolved Northern Ireland Assembly was suspended because of long-running disagreements between the main parties. The Stormont government is now sitting again, in part due to the high profile of the health strikes.

Earlier this week Health Minister Robin Swann outlined the pay proposals to the health unions.  

The RCN UK Council will now consider the proposals.

The Royal College of Midwives (RCM) was also balloting Northern Ireland members on industrial action but has now suspended the ballot.

'Long and Difficult Road'

RCN Northern Ireland Director Pat Cullen said in a statement: "This has been a long and difficult road for nurses in Northern Ireland but following the unprecedented decision to take strike action, our members finally have something concrete to consider in relation to both the restoration of pay parity and safe staffing. The progress this week is testament to having political leadership in place following 3 years of standing still.

She continued: "We firmly believe this movement towards a better and more sustainable health and social care service is because the voice of nursing not just spoke up but was heard.

"I am immensely proud of the steadfastness and determination that nurses have shown in order to improve conditions not just for nurses, but for patients who have been subjected to longer waiting lists and delayed care for long enough. This dispute always focused not just on pay, but on ensuring that we have the right numbers of nurses in the right places, to provide the care and treatment required."
 

Backdated

The RCM said the agreement means pay parity with health workers in England will be backdated to 1 April 2019.

The union will be recommending members accept the deal.

Karen Murray, the RCM’s director for Northern Ireland said: "This has been hard won and hard fought for. We have negotiated intensively on behalf of our members to get to this point. Within just a few days of the Assembly restarting we have got a fair pay deal on the table for our members.

She continued: "This is a very positive step forward after falling behind other UK health workers on pay. Our actions and that of other unions has put pressure on the Government and led to this agreement."

Against the Odds

UNISON is balloting members with a recommendation to accept the deal.

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 7 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."

Health Minister Robin Swann said: "This has been a very difficult time but I believe everyone across the health and social care system can now move forward together.

"Today’s announcements will be welcomed by many – not least by patients and of course staff who took industrial action with a very heavy heart."

Editor's Note: This article was updated to include the latest information from the RCM.

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