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Northern Ireland's midwives and nurses consulted on strike action

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Unions have announced that nurses and midwives in Northern Ireland are to be consulted on whether they are prepared to take industrial action, including strike action, over pay.

As a result, nursing and midwifery staff within the country’s Health and Social Care Service will be consulted on industrial action over the continuing absence of a pay award for 2018-2019.

“The mood among our members in Northern Ireland is palpably angry”

Jon Skewes

The Royal College of Nursing said on 6 November that it was taking the “unprecedented step” of asking members if they would be prepared to be balloted formally on industrial action over the “continuing absence of any pay award for 2018-19”.

Meanwhile, the board of the Royal College of Midwives has also agreed to consult its members in Northern Ireland, with the process running until 23 November, it announced today.

It said the union’s members will be asked whether they would be willing to take industrial action up to and including strike action.

The consultation result will be considered by the RCM’s board, which will then make the decision about the “next steps”.

The college highlighted that the move came after pay for midwives and maternity support workers in Northern Ireland had fallen behind the rest of the UK.

For example, a midwife in Northern Ireland at the top of pay band 6 will earn over £2,000 less than her colleagues at the same level in England, according to the college.

“Our future course of action in relation to pay will be determined by what our members tell us”

Fiona Devlin

This “appalling situation” has come about because of the lack of a functioning government in Northern Ireland and no intervention from the UK government to intervene to break the deadlock.

As previously reported by Nursing Times, RCM members in England, Scotland and Wales voted earlier this year to accept a three-year pay deal, which is now in the process of being implemented.

The deal also includes reform of the Agenda for Change agreement itself, with improved starting salaries and quicker progress to reach the top of pay bands.

Funding for similar pay increases for midwives and other health professionals in Northern Ireland has been made available from the UK Treasury through the Barnett Formula.

But officials in Westminster and Northern Ireland will not negotiate on pay, because they say there is no government to implement any agreement, the midwives’ college claimed.

Unions have previously asked the Department of Health and Social Care to fund an interim 3% pay award for Northern Ireland’s Health and Social Care Service staff on Agenda for Change.

Jon Skewes, the RCM’s executive director for external relations, said: “The mood among our members in Northern Ireland is palpably angry.

“They are working ever harder, yet seeing their pay falling significantly in real terms,” he said. “They are seeing their colleagues in other UK countries receiving pay increases, including the recent three- year pay deal, and they are not.

“This is clearly unjust and unfair,” he said. “Politicians in Westminster and Northern Ireland are sending a signal that they neither care about nor value midwives and other health staff in Northern Ireland. This situation is having an incredibly demoralising effect.

“Pay in Northern Ireland has now fallen seriously behind the other countries in the UK,” he said. “Recruitment and retention of midwives is already a real issue which will only be exacerbated if this situation is allowed to continue.”

Mr Skewes called on politicians and civil servants to “sort this out”, and urged them to negotiate a solution to bring midwives and their colleagues in Northern Ireland “in line with the rest of the UK”.

RCN Northern Ireland board chair Fiona Devlin said: “Nurses’ pay in Northern Ireland has fallen significantly behind the other three UK countries, despite the fact that we are supposed to have a four country framework for pay, terms and conditions.

“We have unprecedented pressures within the health and social care system that are made even worse because of at least 1,800 vacant nursing posts across Northern Ireland,” she said. “We believe that enough is enough.

She added: “Our future course of action in relation to pay will be determined by what our members tell us.”

Other health unions in Northern Ireland are also expected to be announcing that they are consulting their members on action over the pay stalemate.

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