Is Health Minister Holding Back On Pay Parity After 2 Years Of Campaigning By Hospital Staff ?
Recently more than 15,000 nurses in Northern Ireland took industrial action for better pay and increased staffing. Pickets appeared outside hospitals as 9,000 nurses from the Royal College of Nursing went on strike for the first time in the union’s 103-year history writes Kevin McAteer.
The NHS in Northern Ireland is under extreme pressure, and likewise the staff who work tirelessly day after day within that system feel that pressure on a daily basis.
Newry and Armagh Alliance representative Jackie Coade said: “Health workers have been working under extraordinary pressure and, during that period, have seen their cost-of-living rise considerably. That is why it was right than an early priority for any incoming Executive would be to make this pay award. There is still some work to do to align agency pay caps with those in England.
“However, the RCN, British Medical Association and others have also long been clear the key issue here is safe staffing. Legislation would be a helpful intervention here in due course, but I welcome an agreement on a route forward has been found.
“Now we can move on to the challenge of bringing down waiting lists and transforming health and social care so we have a world-class service which is fit and accessible for all.
“Lately it looks like we will move a step closer to pay parity following months of intense negotiations with staff, unions and the Department of Health. Members of the Royal College of Nursing, the Royal College of Midwives, Unison and Unite have voted in support of the new deal proposed by Health Minister Robin Swann. The offer will mean that nurses in Northern Ireland will finally be paid the same as their colleagues in England.”
Nurses have also won their battle for commitments for new measures to ensure staffing for safe and effective care. Commenting on the news, Director of the RCN in Northern Ireland Pat Cullen said: “The past few months have been amongst the most turbulent and pressurised that Nurses have ever seen.
“During the dispute, Nurses in the country staged the first-ever official strike led by members of the RCN since it formed more than a century ago. As I stood on picket lines with my colleagues, we felt the weight of the health service and the people of Northern Ireland on our shoulders, but we knew it was the right thing to do – for patients. This is a major milestone for the NHS in Northern Ireland for nurses to be similar to their UK counterparts.”
A Department of Health spokesperson commenting on the funding issue, said: “In Minister Swann’s statement to the Assembly on 14 January 2020, he announced that additional funding had been secured and pay parity for Agenda for Change staff – which includes, among others, nurses, ambulance service workers, domiciliary care workers, etc – with England could be restored. The estimated cost of implementing the 2019/20 Agenda for Change (AfC) pay award is £114.70m including pay progression but before deducting recyclables.
“Pay parity with England for ‘Agenda for Change’ staff will be restored with effect from 1 April 2019. The post-31 March 2021 position is yet to be agreed across the UK. We are aiming to pay the 2019/20 award in March salaries, with the 2020/21 award to be implemented very soon thereafter.
“Any future pay award would be subject to negotiation and consultation with Trade Unions.”
Many nursing staff will see this as a very welcoming statement from the Department with back pay due from April 2019 to be included in March’s salary as well as 2020/21 pay to follow. However, it seems there are more negotiations in regards to what happens after 2021. There are still questions to be answered. Will the executive have the funding for this? Will there be a need for more industrial action?
Newry Sinn Fein Newry City Councillor Charlie Casey added: “Sinn Fein supports pay parity for HSC workers who are the backbone of our health and social care system in the North of Ireland. We support HSC workers industrial action and their calls for pay justice and staffing levels. The Minister of Health needs to deliver on the commitment to deliver and maintain pay parity and bring forward a detailed implementation plan for safe staffing levels in the short term.”
Independent Newry City Councillor Gavin Malone added: “The staff at Daisy Hill Hospital are amazing and the work they do is second to none. The fact that they are getting pay parity alongside their colleagues in England is a massive leap forward. I would like to take the opportunity to thank the staff of Daisy Hill Hospital for the amazing work they do. They are a credit to our community.”