RCN in Northern Ireland seeks ballot on industrial action over pay
College says nurses feel 'demoralized, disengaged and disempowered'
The RCN in Northern Ireland is seeking permission to ballot its members on industrial action short of a strike in response to a government pay offer.
Health minister Simon Hamilton announced on Friday that only staff at the top of their pay bands will receive a cost of living pay rise for 2015/16; this will be in the form of a one-off lump sum equivalent to 1% of their salary.
All other NHS staff will only get their incremental pay progression under Agenda for Change.
The RCN Northern Ireland board held an extraordinary meeting yesterday afternoon to consider the offer.
Its members voted unanimously to consult the RCN council seeking authorisation to ballot members on industrial action.
A ballot had been planned for January 25 before the announcement of the pay award, after the council gave permission in December.
The RCN in Northern Ireland must seek a go-ahead for a new ballot, because the original permission was given before a pay offer was on the table.
RCN Northern Ireland director Janice Smyth said: ‘Board members considered the imposed pay award, the manner in which the minister made this announcement, and the tone of it.
‘They have considered the views and opinions expressed by members who contacted the RCN over the weekend, and taken into account the detail of the minister’s announcement.
‘Nurses… perceive that he has blatantly misrepresented the situation in relation to nurses’ pay.
‘The trade unions wrote to Mr Hamilton on May 15 last year requesting a meeting; one that had been scheduled for September was cancelled, rescheduled and took place on December 16.
‘The RCN is disappointed at the lack of leadership and respect demonstrated by the minister in relation to health and social care staff pay.’
Nurses at the top of bands 5 and 6 will receive one-off lump sum payments of £279 and £345 under the pay award.
Mr Hamilton said this equates to an average of almost £300 each for healthcare staff at the top of their bands.
RCN Northern Ireland deputy director Garrett Martin said: ‘This non-consolidated award is not added to pay scales and it is only for those at the top of their pay scales. Because it is non-consolidated it will not be pensionable. Those lower down the pay scales will not receive cost of living rises.’
He added: ‘Nurses deserve better, but they are feeling demoralized, disengaged and disempowered.
‘That is why we have called for an unprecedented ballot – the first in 100 years.
'We are putting down a marker to say enough is enough. We accept that these are difficult times, but there needs to be light at the end of the tunnel.
‘Nurses in Northern Ireland have only had one consolidated pay rise in the last four years.’
Mr Hamilton said yesterday that trade union representatives had been unwilling to move beyond seeking to reopen the 2014/15 pay settlement, and added that their pay demands would have cost Northern Ireland's Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety close to £40 million, which he said was ‘simply unaffordable in current circumstances’.
He added: ‘Meeting the unions’ pay demands in full would be the equivalent of 5,800 knee replacements, 5,700 hip replacements or the employment of an additional 1,000 nurses.’