Health Unions Suspend Industrial Action

Health unions in Northern Ireland have suspended their strike action after talks with the Department of Health.

In one of the first decisive moves for the newly-restored Stormont Executive, health workers have been allocated extra funds for salary parity with England and delivered promises on safe staffing levels.

The major breakthrough in the pay dispute was confirmed by Unison and the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) this afternoon, 16 January.

It brings to a close a prolonged period of industrial action for both unions, with nurses taking to the picket line for the first time ever last month.

The agreed deal stalled further industrial action planned by the RCN for three separate days next week.

The union's Director Pat Cullen today advised the five health and social care trusts that the strikes will no longer take place.

She said it had been a "long and difficult road" for nurses in Northern Ireland.

"Following the unprecedented decision to take strike action, our members finally have something concrete to consider in relation to both the restoration of pay parity and safe staffing," Ms Cullen commented.

"The progress this week is testament to having political leadership in place following three years of standing still.

"We firmly believe this movement towards a better and more sustainable health and social care service is because the voice of nursing not just spoke up but was heard.

"I am immensely proud of the steadfastness and determination that nurses have shown in order to improve conditions not just for nurses, but for patients who have been subjected to longer waiting lists and delayed care for long enough. This dispute always focused not just on pay, but on ensuring that we have the right numbers of nurses in the right places, to provide the care and treatment required."

The union will now move to consult members on the government's offer of pay parity and safe staffing commitments.

Fiona Devlin, Chair of the RCN Northern Ireland Board added: "Throughout this time, we have stood together to do what is best for the people of Northern Ireland.
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"As we said many times, no member of nursing staff ever wanted to be standing on a picket line. It was the first time that members of the Royal College of Nursing took this action and I truly hope we are never forced into this position again."

Health Minister Robin Swann tabled the "breakthrough" offer to unions on Tuesday, pledging an extra £30 million to meet the cost of pay parity with England.

Unison has also agreed to ballot its members and suspend industrial action. The decision follows hours of intensive negotiations with the Department of Health.

Regional Secretary Patricia McKeown credited Unison members and public support for ensuring the resolution of the pay dispute.

"Our members have shown incredible determination and compassion and the public have been unswerving in their support," Ms McKeown said.

"Over the past 7 weeks our 26,000 members in the health service have each played a crucial role in the action. Thousands of them have also taken direct strike action at great personal cost. Their action has not been easy. No one simply walked away and closed the doors behind them. Instead they have spent weeks engaging with their employers on the detailed work of ensuring emergency cover and protection for the most vulnerable patients.

"The public have supported them throughout, despite enduring thousands of cancellations in a health system bursting at the seams. They understood that someone had to call a halt to the rapid decline of our vital health and social services system. On behalf of all UNISON members I extend our heartfelt gratitude to them."

The union expects a positive response from members in respect of the fresh pay offer.

Minister Swann welcomed the announcements by both unions to suspend their industrial action and paid tribute to local nurses and health workers.

"Today's announcements will be welcomed by many – not least by patients and of course staff who took industrial action with a very heavy heart," the north Antrim MLA commented.

"Only yesterday, we saw figures showing that the number of compliments in our health service far outnumbers the number of complaints.

"This illustrates the great health care that is provided day and daily across Northern Ireland, despite all the serious problems facing the system. I recognise, of course, that there is still a lot of work to be done."


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