Health unions in Northern Ireland have demanded that a formal pay offer is put forward “without delay” for health and social care (HSC) workers in the country.
In a joint statement published this week, HSC unions in Northern Ireland have called on the Department of Health in the country to ensure that their members see pay parity with their NHS colleagues in England.
This follows an announcement last week from the UK Government that nurses and other NHS workers in England would receive an improved pay offer, following negotiations with unions.
“We are determined to ensure that our members are not, yet again, left behind”
Joint union statement
The proposed deal includes additional pay for 2022-23 and a 5% pay settlement for 2023-24 for NHS staff working on Agenda for Change (AfC) contracts in England.
While pay is a devolved matter, and unions in other UK countries have been negotiating NHS pay separately, this latest pay offer could impact the devolved nations.
If the UK Government decides to put forward new money to fund the latest pay deal for nurses in England, then it will entitle the other UK countries to new money too.
This is because of the Barnett formula mechanism used by the UK government to match public expenditure in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland with that in England.
In their joint statement, HSC unions explained that any finance coming from the Treasury “will be placed within the Northern Ireland budget for the Assembly”, the law-making body, which decides how it is spent.
“Health trade unions in Northern Ireland have always argued that money allocated for pay should be at least the same as the England only deal,” the statement said.
However, as Northern Ireland does not currently have a functioning executive, health unions have been unable to negotiate with their government in the same way that unions in the devolved nations have.
The joint statement noted that, as a result, regional joint secretaries from unions including Unison, Northern Ireland Public Service Alliance (NIPSA) and Unite, were “seeking direct engagement with the Department of Health and the Northern Ireland office”.
“We are determined to ensure that our members are not, yet again, left behind,” the statement said.
It comes as the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) has today announced that its members in Northern Ireland will hold strike action on 3 April.
Karen Murray, the RCM’s director for Northern Ireland, said: “Politicians in Westminster and Stormont have a duty of care to HSC staff and the women, babies, and families they care for.
“Northern Ireland’s political stasis means they are failing in that duty.
“It is not too late to avert this action and we ask again for our politicians to step up and deliver a deal that rewards midwives fairly.
“It has been done in other UK countries, so why can it not be done here?”
Nurses and other HSC staff in Northern Ireland fell out of pay parity with NHS colleagues in England in 2019, which led to a series of strikes across the country, from unions including the Royal College of Nursing (RCN).
Last week RCN Northern Ireland director, Rita Devlin, warned that nurses would not be prepared to accept this again, and urged the UK health and social care secretary to help nurses in the country receive a pay offer.
Meanwhile, in its joint statement HSC unions said that meetings were being arranged to discuss how they may move forward in securing a pay offer for Northern Ireland.
The statement said that the outcomes of health union ballots in England would be expected by the end of April and, if the offer is accepted by union members, the pay award could be implemented “probably no sooner than the June pay cycle”.
It added: “In order to allow us to enter into a similar process Northern Ireland must receive a formal offer.
“This must be brought to our bargaining table without delay.”
When asked to comment, the Department of Health in Northern Ireland referred back to a statement issued earlier this week, where it said it welcomed the work “undertaken at national level to resolve the dispute”.
It added: “We will be seeking clarification from the UK Government on Barnett consequentials for Northern Ireland from this pay offer, ahead of engaging with trade union colleagues.”
Meanwhile, the UK Government’s Department of Health and Social Care told Nursing Times that it was working with the Treasury “to resolve any new funding needs”, and that normal funding arrangements for the devolved administrations would continue to apply.