Further strike action by health workers in Northern Ireland will take place this week and next week amid anger over the lack of a new pay offer there.
Unison, which represents nurses as well as other health professions, has announced that it will hold two 24-hour strikes, on Friday 31 March and Monday 3 April.
“We will not be bounced from pillar to post”
On the Monday, Unison members will also be joined by midwifery staff from the Royal College of Midwives who are striking from 8am to 12noon.
Unison said it organised the new strikes after being told by local health leaders that there was no money to make a new pay offer.
The latest pay settlement in Northern Ireland was the deal recommended by the national NHS Pay Review Body of an average 4.75% pay award for Agenda for Change staff for 2022-23.
However, negotiations between health unions and governments in Scotland and Wales have led to better deals being implemented in those countries for 2022-23.
In Scotland, a deal that will deliver an average 6.5% pay increase for AfC staff for the coming financial year, 2023-24, has also recently been agreed.
Meanwhile, health unions in England are currently in the process of balloting their members on a fresh offer from Westminster which consists of an additional bonus for 2022-23 and a 5% pay deal for 2023-24.
However, the current lack of a functioning executive in Northern Ireland means unions in the country have been unable to negotiate with their government on pay in the same way as their UK counterparts.
There is also an ongoing lack of clarity over what the new deal in England – if implemented – will mean for Northern Ireland in terms of new money coming through the Barnett consequentials to increase health worker pay.
Unison regional secretary for Northern Ireland, Patricia McKeown, warned: “UK ministers should know by now that workers in Northern Ireland will not tolerate being left behind.”
“As things stand, the department is not in a position make a formal pay offer”
Northern Ireland Department of Health
She called on both the UK Government and local politicians to take action to ensure pay parity for health workers in Northern Ireland.
“We cannot accept that playing political games takes precedence over the rights of health workers and their patients alike,” she added.
“All parties can expect to hear from angry health workers in the coming days.”
Anne Speed, head of bargaining at Unison, added: “We will not be bounced from pillar to post.”
A spokesperson for the Department of Health in Northern Ireland said it “regrets the industrial action in health and social care and the inevitable disruption it will cause across a range of services”.
“The department fully understands the frustrations of staff and the severe challenges they have been working under,” they added.
“As things stand, the department is not in a position make a formal pay offer.”
They said the reason for this was because its budget for 2023-24 was still yet to be confirmed but that it was expecting a “significant financial shortfall”.
“We are potentially facing high impact cuts on health and social care services that are already under considerable pressure,” said the spokesperson.
They added that the department was seeking clarification from the UK Government on the Barnett consequentials for Northern Ireland from the proposed pay settlement in England and that this would help inform its next steps.