Socialist Worker

Historic strike in Northern Ireland NHS

by Tomáš Tengely-Evans
Issue No. 2685

Workers are fighting for a new pay deal and better staffing levels

Workers are fighting for a new pay deal and better staffing levels (Pic: RCN Northern Ireland/Twitter)

Thousands of nurses and other health workers in Northern Ireland are fighting for higher pay.

Members of the Unison union and Royal College of Nursing (RCN) were set for a 48-hour walkout from Wednesday of this week.

It will be the first time in the organisation’s 103-year history that it has backed industrial action.

Ambulance workers in Unison will also take targeted industrial action, including frontline crews, non-emergency staff and control and support staff.

RCN and Unison members in Northern Ireland have been taking part in two weeks of action short of strike in the run-up to the walkout.


This means starting and finishing on time, taking their breaks and not doing non-nursing duties.

Pat Cullen, RCN Northern Ireland director, said “Nurses now feel that they have no choice.

“With around 2,800 vacant nursing posts in the system, record levels of expenditure on agency staff to try to plug the gaps, and nurses’ pay continuing to fall further and further behind the rest of the UK, nursing staff have had enough.”

Workers have staged action short of a strike since 3 December.

They are refusing to work overtime or unpaid hours or to perform duties like answering phones on the ward.

“A number of members reported back to us that it was the first day in a very long time they could remember feeling they actually had the time to care for patients in the way they would like to every day,” said Pat.

“This in itself tells us why RCN members feel it is necessary to take this action in the first place.” Health workers in Northern Ireland are demanding pay parity with workers in the NHS in Britain.

Some 13 health unions in Britain negotiated and missold a flawed three-year pay deal for health workers in England in 2018.

It included funding for pay deals for workers in the devolved parts of Britain— Scotland and Wales, and Northern Ireland.


But Northern Ireland has not had a government since the collapse of the power-sharing agreement.

Its administration has been run by civil servants.

This means it has not negotiated a pay deal with the unions.

Pat said, “Our health service is collapsing.

“It is simply not good enough for civil servants to continue to play with words and fail to take effective action to resolve this crisis.

“The RCN believes the gap between what the department is offering and what nurses expect in terms of pay parity can be achieved.”

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