Unison health workers in Northern Ireland vote for strike action

Health workers in Northern Ireland have voted for strike action.

Trade union Unison said its ballot focused on pay and staffing levels.

The union’s elected representatives across the health system will meet on Friday to finalise details for what it described as a “comprehensive industrial action plan”.

It is expected to include strike action and other forms of industrial action across the system.

The first of the actions is expected to take place before the end of November.

Unison regional secretary Patricia McKeown said workers feel they have been “pushed to the brink”.

She said: “Health workers do not take industrial action lightly but they have been pushed to the brink.

“Responsibility for averting this critical situation lies with the Department of Health, the head of the NI Civil Service and the Department of Finance.

“They must access the funding necessary to resolve the pay problem and begin to address safe staffing levels as a matter of extreme urgency.

“Their current proposals are rejected by us as wholly inadequate.”

In a statement, the Department of Health said it is currently experiencing a time of “intense budgetary pressures”.

“The department remains focused on finding a way forward – in this context we are currently finalising a formal pay offer for 2019/20,” the statement said.

“This will be the best offer possible within the budget available, but the reality is that our ability to address pay issues is inevitably constrained at a time of intense budgetary pressures for health and social care services.

“These budgetary pressures are clear for all to see, and we have been highlighting these for some considerable time.

“Despite claims to the contrary, there is no separate or untapped source of funding that we can access – nor can money simply be found in the budget.

“As with any other item of expenditure, pay costs come out of the one health budget, which is currently overcommitted. Every pound spent on one priority area is a pound not available for another.”

The vote by Unison workers comes a week after nurses in Northern Ireland voted to strike over staffing numbers and pay disputes.

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