RCN: Northern Ireland nurses set to vote on industrial action
Nurses in Northern Ireland are set to vote on whether or not they will take industrial action, short of walking out on strike, in a dispute over pay.
The ballot is being organised by the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), which described the move as "unprecedented".
The RCN said Northern Ireland was the only part of the UK where nurses have not received a pay rise for 2015-2016.
But a spokesman for Stormont's Health Minister Simon Hamilton claimed trade unions "refused" talks on the issue.
The ballot will ask nurses to vote on a work-to-rule protest, that may result in them refusing to work unpaid hours or carry out non-nursing activities.
The RCN's director in Northern Ireland, Janice Smyth, said: "Not only are our members now paid less than their counterparts in England, Scotland and Wales, but many other public servants in Northern Ireland have received a pay award, leaving nursing, a predominantly female profession, subjected to unfair treatment.
"An experienced staff nurse in Northern Ireland is now paid £279 a year less than in England and £561 a year less than in Scotland," she added.
"The message that the care they provide to the people of Northern Ireland is not valued is being made loud and clear."
However, the health minister's spokesman said Mr Hamilton "values the essential role that nurses play in the continued provision of a high standard of care in Northern Ireland".
The spokesman added that Department of Health officials had "repeatedly sought to engage with trade unions who have refused to enter into discussions on a settlement for 2015-16".
"The department remains hopeful this will change and that unions will engage," the spokesman said.
As well as refusing to work unpaid hours, the RCN said the industrial action could include refusing to carry out activities "imposed on nurses" that its members believe are "not directly related" to nursing care.