Northern Ireland

Royal College of Nursing considers action over pay 'insult'

nurse Image copyright Thinkstock-Getty Images
Image caption The RCN says nurses in Northern Ireland are worse off than their counterparts in England and Scotland

The Royal College of Nursing has held an emergency board meeting later in response to a pay award which unions have described as an insult.

They are now to ballot members on taking industrial action short of a strike.

Health Minister Simon Hamilton said the majority of health care workers, including nurses, would receive a one-off payment.

The 1% increase would equate to about £300 for most.

The RCN has said the increase should be added to salaries as has been the case in other parts of the UK.

It said nurses in Northern Ireland are worse off than their counterparts in England and Scotland.

However, the health minister has said it is a fair deal.

Following Monday's meeting, Janice Smyth, director of the Royal College of Nursing in Northern Ireland, said: "Board members considered the imposed pay award, the manner in which the Minister made this announcement and the tone of the announcement.

"They have considered the views and opinions expressed by members who contacted the RCN over the weekend, and taken account of the detail of the Minister's announcement."

She added: "Today, members of the RCN Northern Ireland board voted unanimously to consult RCN council seeking authorisation to ballot RCN members in Northern Ireland in relation to the imposed pay award announced by the minister and taking industrial action short of strike action."

Analysis: BBC News NI's David Maxwell

For the health minister this is about the best allocation of scarce resources, for nursing unions it's about fairness and recognition of hard working health care staff.

The pay settlement announced by the minister last Friday afternoon falls far short of what the unions wanted.

It sets out a 1% rise for the 60% of health care staff who are at the top of their pay band.

That rise is non-consolidated, which means it is effectively a one-off bonus which won't necessarily be added into next year's pay.

The 1% payment will equate to around £300 for most, with a maximum of £985.

The other 40% of staff who aren't at the top of their pay band, will get their normal annual incremental rise.

This will on average be 3.7% rise which will equate to a minimum of £1,588.

The unions want the 1% rise to be consolidated, meaning it would increase annual salaries and wouldn't be a one off payment. This has been the case in Scotland.

However, Mr Hamilton said his officials had sought to engage with union leaders on a 2015-16 settlement since 4 January 2015.

"I would have preferred an agreed settlement but when I met recently with trade union representatives they unfortunately remained unwilling to move beyond seeking to reopen last year's settlement despite it having being paid into people's accounts many months ago and with their union colleagues across the water having moved ahead and focused on 2015-16," he said.

"The pay demands made by the trade unions would cost my department's budget close to £40m and are simply unaffordable in current circumstances."

The RCN had already decided to ballot members on industrial action short of a strike later this month.

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