The Royal College of Nursing’s ruling council has authorised its Northern Ireland branch to ballot members on taking industrial action short of striking over the lack of any pay award.
While historic, the move stops short of approving a strike ballot, so will limit RCN members in Northern Ireland to working to rule and similar protest measures.
“We identified with the sense of unfairness felt by our colleagues in Northern Ireland”
In November, members of the RCN Northern Ireland board voted to ask the RCN council for authorisation to ballot over industrial action – though it was unclear at the time if this would include striking.
The request was sparked by the rejection by ministers of the NHS Pay Review Body’s recommendation of a 1% pay rise in 2014-15 and no announcement about pay for the current financial year.
RCN Northern Ireland director Janice Smyth said nurses were “angry” it was now more than half-way through 2015-16 and the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety had not indicated whether or not it will make a pay award for nurses.
It contrasts with the rest of the UK, where all Scottish nurses were offered the 1% recommended by the NHS Pay Review Body, as were the majority of nurses in Wales after negotiations brought about a revised deal.
In March, unions in England agreed a 1% pay rise for 2015-16 for all staff up to pay point 42 – the second point on band 8c – following two short strikes during the preceding autumn.
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Members of the Royal College of Midwives in Northern Ireland held a four-hour strike over pay – for the first time in their history in April.
RCN council chair Michael Brown said: “We identified with the sense of unfairness felt by our colleagues in Northern Ireland over the fact that they are the only part of the UK that has not had a pay award.
“We fully support them in their negotiations to achieve that, and have given them the authority to ballot if necessary for industrial action short of strike action,” he said.
He added: “We agreed that any such action should be planned to ensure that patient safety is not compromised in any way.”