The Royal College of Nursing in Northern Ireland has confirmed that it plans to ballot members early next year on industrial action, short of striking, in an escalation of a long-running dispute over pay.
In a historic move, the RCN in Northern Ireland has committed to the ballot following the failure of the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety to give nurses any pay award for 2015-16.
Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK in which nursing staff have not received any pay rise. The college claimed nurses there were now at least 10% worse off in real terms than in 2008.
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Nursing Times understands the ballot, which was recently authorised by the RCN council, will go ahead in the new year, probably at the end of January. An exact date has yet to be confirmed, said an RCN spokeswoman.
However, the RCN Northern Ireland board confirmed that was considering industrial action that excluded striking, such as the cessation of working unpaid hours.
It noted that this might also include boycotting activities that have been “imposed” on nurses that are not directly related to nursing care and “if properly resourced and managed would be the responsibility of others”.
In a statement, Janice Smyth, director of the RCN in Northern Ireland, described the “failure” to give a pay award to nurses in Northern Ireland as a “failure in equality”.
She 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,” said Ms Smyth. “The message that the care they provide to the people of Northern Ireland is not valued is being made loud and clear.
She added: “The decision to ballot our members was not taken lightly. When we end up in a situation where there appears to be no alternative to industrial action, then we know that nursing staff have been pushed to the limit.”