Northern Ireland

Health unions' letter to politicians over pay dispute

A nurse comforts a patient Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Unite says NI healthcare workers are paid "substantially less" than their GB counterparts

Northern Ireland's health unions have written a joint letter to political leaders about the ongoing pay dispute for workers across health and social care sectors.

The letter, seen by the BBC, appeals for the restoration of a devolved power-sharing assembly at Stormont.

It also said that unions were concerned about worsening workforce challenges.

It highlights a "growing pay gap" between healthcare staff and their counterparts elsewhere in the UK.

The unions said the political context at Stormont presented "barriers to progress, which politicians need to recognise and assist in finding a resolution".

Northern Ireland has been without an executive since January 2017, when the governing parties - the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and Sinn Féin - split in a bitter row.

Under pressure?

Pay negotiations between the unions and the Department of Health have been ongoing.

But this letter suggests that unions are under pressure from members to find a solution.

In the letter, the union leaders make a direct appeal to politicians.

Image caption The letter suggests that health workers will not accept the continuation of pay gaps

"The trade unions have re-engaged in discussions with Department of Health officials and employers where we seek to close the pay deficits which now exist," they said.

"We have engaged in these discussions in good faith following the imposition of a one-year pay uplift for 2018-19, which was not agreed by the trade unions."

The issue is over Northern Ireland not being able to secure a three-year pay framework, unlike everywhere else in the UK.

The unions say they entered discussions in 2018 within the context of the Agenda for Change Framework that was established and agreed for staff employed within the NHS across the UK, with the exception of doctors, dentists and some senior managers.

Hints of strike action?

The terms of the framework, including the pay uplift negotiated and its three-year implementation period, was on the basis that funding would be released by the Treasury.

Northern Ireland would also benefit as part of that national commitment through the Barnett consequential.

The letter states, however, that two problems have since emerged, including the Department of Health advising that money is only released on a year-by-year basis and that any funding would not include social care, which is delivered by local government in the rest of the UK.

With hints of strike action across the health service the letter indicates that workers across all health sectors will not accept the continuation of pay gaps.

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