23/09/2011

Health Workers To Walk Out

The trade union Unison has said the impact of 'front-line cuts' have prompted a one-day strike by its members next month.

All their members in health and education will stage a 24-hour walkout on 5 October in what they said would affect all health workers - except doctors and teaching staff.

The NI Health Minister Edwin Poots has however expressed serious concern over the decision to take strike action.

The DUP Minister said: "I am deeply concerned and very disappointed in the decision to strike. I believe this action will be counter-productive and will cause unnecessary disruption to our Health Service. We all want a better Health Service but taking strike action which will affect patients and staff is not the best way to achieve this.

"Unison in Northern Ireland has failed to explain clearly the reasons behind their strike," he added.

The Minister went on to point out that the union had not exhausted all options and said: "My door is always open and I am always prepared to talk to those who represent the healthcare workforce – that is how to get things resolved. Instead, I am disappointed that they have chosen to take drastic action that will cost the health service money and affect patients."

Mr Poots continued: "I fully appreciate the excellent work of our health service staff who work tirelessly to provide a high quality health service in very challenging times," concluding: "It is only a fraction of the workforce that voted for strike who are seeking to disrupt our health service on 5 October."

The strike action comes soon after the Unison Nurses Forum met to finalise the detail of the strike and how it would impact nursing staff.

Eoin Stewart and Marion Ritchie commented: "Taking strike action is a last resort for nurses, but the situation for many of our nursing staff has now reached breaking point.

"We have grown increasingly concerned about the conditions nurses are expected to work under and about the standard of care they are able to provide.

"Nurses' professionalism is under pressure and nurses can no longer remain silent about the effect that staff reductions, stress and cuts are having on patients, their relatives and themselves.

"Nurses are under pressure to fill gaps, to take more work on, and not to complain and are made to feel guilty about raising concerns.

"The truth is that patient care could be compromised and that staffing levels are so bad now it is a strain to give even basic nursing care to patients," the two senior union officials said in advance of today's strike announcement.

Then, today, Unison's Patricia McKeown said the Stormont Executive had to rethink its strategy on budget cuts.

Ms McKeown said: "We are at a critical stage in many areas, I think of one health trust that has just produced its figures."

Reasons 'Unclear'

The Strangford DUP MLA Simon Hamilton has this afternoon expressed his regret that the Unison trade union has called strike action for 5th October.

Mr Hamilton who is the Assembly Private Secretary in the Department of Finance and Personnel said that reasons for the strike had not been outlined clearly or the actions which could be taken to result in the strike being called off.

"It is disappointing therefore that Unison have called this action whilst the exact reasons behind it remain in question and there have not been any proposals put forward which could result in the strike being cancelled," he said.

(BMcC/GK)

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