Pay parity and safe staffing: nurses' views from the picket lines

Nurses in Northern Ireland took to picket lines today amid failure to implement a pay award that would bring them in line with colleagues across the UK
Striking nurses outside Antrim Area Hospital

Nurses in Northern Ireland took to picket lines today amid failure to implement a pay award that would bring them in line with colleagues across the UK

Striking nurses outside Antrim Area Hospital. Picture RCN

Nurses in Northern Ireland took to picket lines today in their ongoing dispute over pay and working conditions.

Members of RCN Northern Ireland are joining other unions in a day of industrial action over the failure to implement a pay award for 2023-24 that would bring them in line with colleagues across the UK.

RCN members at some 15 hospitals across the country are protesting at the lack of pay parity from the beginning of their shift until 1pm, with other public sector workers including midwives, radiographers and teachers across Northern Ireland also staging walkouts.

Other unions taking part in the ‘generalised day of action’ include Unison, GMB and Unite.

RCN Northern Ireland said earlier this month that nurses there had been left with no choice but to take part in strikes as the lack of a functioning devolved legislature in the country amid a political impasse has slowed progress on pay talks.

What’s happening to nurses in Northern Ireland is immoral, says Pat Cullen

RCN general secretary Pat Cullen said in a message to members: ‘We’ve said time and time again we won’t stand by and allow politicians to continue to decimate our NHS. We will stand by our patients and we will continue to work for our patients.

‘It’s immoral what’s happening to nurses in Northern Ireland – once again seeing their pay drop behind that of nurses across the other countries of the UK. Our patients are sitting on waiting lists year after year because our NHS is crumbling at the seams. So our nurses will not stand by and allow this to continue to happen.’

The Northern Ireland Office (NIO) confirmed this month that a pay package is ‘on the table’ and would be available on ‘day one of an incoming Northern Ireland Executive to take up’.

An NIO spokesperson said the UK government had provided up to £584 million in funding to address public sector pay and more than £1 billion to stabilise the country’s public sector services.

'I don't understand why they're paid less than in England'

RCN nurse of the year 2021 Nicola Bailey, who revolutionised sexual healthcare in Northern Ireland, said former colleagues describe their working situation as ‘dire’.

‘They’re saying the situation is just so dire at the minute – you’re either working extra shifts, you’re struggling short on your shift, the cost of living crisis is rising and yet pay isn’t going anywhere.

‘There’s no forward planning whether they’re going to get more money or not. To this day I don’t understand why they’re paid less than England when they’re part of the United Kingdom – I just don’t get how they can do that variance.’

Nurses stand in solidarity with their colleagues in Northern Ireland

Ms Bailey, who previously worked for Belfast Health and Social Care Trust but now works in England, said nurses stood in solidarity with their colleagues in Northern Ireland.

‘Every nurse that stands beside each other is saying the same thing – it’s just not about the pay for us: it’s about patient safety and patient concern, but also about being valued for what we’re worth.

‘At the end of the day, if you didn’t have nurses to staff the wards, who’s going to staff your wards? It’s incredible where nursing is going and what we’re achieving, but at the end of the day we need the pay to actually show it.’

Unison says public servants shouldn’t be ‘caught in the middle’

Unison urged the Westminster government to release the funding as soon as possible to resolve the dispute.

General secretary Christina McAnea labelled the situation 'intolerable'.

Ms McAnea said: ‘Health, care, school and other public service employees are hugely frustrated. Public sector workers never want to strike. But this intolerable situation has left them with no other option.’

She said Northern Ireland secretary Chris Heaton-Harris had said there was money available for pay. Ms McAnea added: ‘That money needs to be released. Everyone wants to see an executive back up and running at Stormont, but public servants shouldn’t be caught in the middle.’

Nurses across the UK express their support

Nurses across the UK expressed their solidarity with colleagues in Northern Ireland, who are braving below-freezing temperatures to take a stand for pay parity with the rest of the UK.

Northern Ireland chief nurse says she understands 'deep-seated reasons' behind the action

Northern Ireland chief nursing officer Maria McIlgorm wrote to nursing staff ahead of the strikes, saying she understood the ‘deep-seated reasons’ behind the action.
She added: ‘In again expressing my sincere thanks to each of you for your work, I know that you deserve more than just words of gratitude.’

Strike locations for RCN members can be found here on the RCN website.

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