Unite's health workers to vote on industrial action

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NursesImage source, PA Media

Unite's health care workers in Northern Ireland are to be balloted on taking industrial action over pay.

The union said the ballot of its 4,000 NHS workers will start on Monday.

Unite's health workers include psychologists, speech and language therapists, pathology laboratory staff, community nurses, pharmacists and support staff.

It is the first time in the Royal College of Nursing's (RCN) 103-year-history such action has been taken in the UK.

'Budgetary pressures'

On Monday, a spokesman for the Department of Health (DoH) said it remained focussed on "finding a way forward".

"In this context, we are currently finalising a formal pay offer for 2019/20," he said.

However, he added that addressing pay issues was "inevitably constrained at a time of intense budgetary pressures".

"These budgetary pressures are clear for all to see, and we have been highlighting these for some considerable time," he said.

"Despite claims to the contrary, there is no separate or untapped source of funding that we can access - nor can money simply be found in the budget."

On Sunday night, Unite health lead Kevin McAdam said it was opening a ballot after its members requested to join the industrial action signalled by other health unions.

"We are confident we will get a resounding response to the ballot that will say clearly to the Department of Health - our members are worth the same as their colleagues across the water," Mr McAdam said.

"Our patients deserve the same treatment. We must stop the drain from our health service in Northern Ireland. We won't be left behind."

Image source, Getty Images

The outcome of the Unite ballot will be known on 2 December.

Talks in the pay dispute have been ongoing for eight months.

Pay discussions have involved all of the health unions in Northern Ireland, including the RCN.

The DoH's statement added: "As with any other item of expenditure, pay costs come out of the one health budget, which is currently overcommitted.

"Every pound spent on one priority area is a pound not available for another."

"The department remains fully committed to ongoing dialogue with the unions."

Last week, the DoH said discussions with trade unions had taken place and it hoped there would be more engagement in the days ahead.

But the unions said talks with the department had finished last Friday without agreement.

A spokesman for the trade unions said there was "no basis" in the department position for a new round of talks.