The UK is the 5th richest country in the world yet at our last pay rise the domestics, porters and catering staff had to be uplifted to the National Minimum Wage!
Why are UNISON members taking industrial action?
Most staff who choose to work in the health service do so to help others not for the pay or working hours. The staff feel as frustrated & angry as the public about the long waiting lists for outpatient appointments & surgery, the long waiting times for treatment &/or admission in the emergency departments & the shortage of staff. Also the staff have seen their pay fall behind their counterparts in the rest of the UK because of our devolved government.
Marion Ritchie, secretary of the local Down branch of health service workers trade union, Unison, said: “UNISON has been in discussions with the Department of Health and employers for the last nine months. This followed an imposition of a pay uplift (nine months late) in December 2018.
“We have consistently sought pay parity for health workers in Northern Ireland. Health workers in Northern Ireland are on lower pay than health workers in England, Scotland and Wales. This is unfair and is causing a staffing crisis within our health service.
“There are over 7,000 vacancies right across the health service, with thousands of vacancies in nursing. We have demanded the Department ensure safe staffing levels across the whole system.
“Spending on agency workers to fill the gaps in the health service is exploding. Public money is going to private agencies instead of being invested in permanent staff. The cost of agency staffing has exceeded £200 million in the last year.
“Waiting lists are growing longer and longer.
“The pressure of working in an understaffed health service is making people sick. Sickness absence rates right across the health service are rising. In the 2019 staff survey, 47% of workers said they felt unwell as a result of work related stress. 35% have thought about leaving the service.
“Workers in Northern Ireland deserve to be paid the same as workers in Glasgow, Cardiff or Manchester. Workers are striking for pay justice. We want a multi-year settlement that achieves pay parity with other parts of the NHS,” said Marion Ritchie.
What kind of industrial action are your members taking?
Sonia Graham, local branch chairperson said: “In the Down area staff are working to rule for three weeks commencing 25th November. This is only part of widespread industrial action across the entire health and social services system.
“This includes action short of strike by nursing, ambulance, support services, admin, clerical, social services and social care, professional and technical and health agencies.
“This action is working to rule to include: Refusing to have breaks interrupted, Working strictly to health and safety protocols and Withdrawal from all Union/Management/Department of Health engagement except regional meetings on dispute resolution and refusing to cover the work of others taking action.”
What about disruption to the public?
On 6th December all staff will take strike action at some part of the day with the largest group coming out from 2-5pm.
Sonya Graham added: “Patient safety has been a primary consideration in planning the action. Our members do not just work in the health service; their families and their communities all use the services.
“There will be some disruption to the public, but the disruption is aimed at those who run the health service. Our members are sending a clear message to them that ‘enough is enough’.
“We are taking targeted action involving different groups of workers at different times.
“We welcome the support the public is showing for workers. Workers are taking a stand because they can no longer accept the crisis in our hospitals and in our communities. Those who run the health service should be held to account for the failure to address these longstanding problems.”