Almost 2,000 health workers at Craigavon Hospital are to ballot on strike action after a three-year government pay freeze.
Nurses, paramedics, porters, cleaners, cooks, therapists and healthcare assistants in Unison will be balloted for industrial action. Staff say they have had enough after they have been left with heavier workloads and less pay.
UNISON branch chair at Craigavon Hospital John Creaney said staff are expected to kick off the campaign with a day of protest on June 5, including lunchtime demos at workplaces across NI. Last week the union gave an overwhelming yes vote to a ballot on strike action.
“The staff are burnt out giving goodwill after goodwill and receiving nothing in return,” he said. “The vital services we provide have been cut and you are left to deal with increased workloads. And as the stress piles up at work your home life is getting harder because your pay has been frozen while your bills keep going up,” said Mr Creaney.
He said all frontline services would be maintained during any strike action but it could mean operations and other services may be cancelled.
Unison is taking part in a pay review body on May 8 to discuss future pay awards for NHS staff. The union is demanding that staff pay rises instead of being frozen and that no one gets less than the living wage. They want ‘bad employment practices’ like the abuse of zero hours contacts to be stamped out and a pay rise above the Chancellor’s one per cent cap. Mr Creaney said, “Everyone including politicians and MPs should value the work we do and the services we provide. Politicians in NI obviously value themselves as they will get a £4k pay rise as part of the shift towards ‘super-councils’. The majority of NHS staff are low paid and this is another insult when they are working incredibly hard to ensure patients receive high quality care in an underfunded and stretched service.
“We’re not asking members to strike for one per cent. We’re saying strike for a pay award that starts to restore and value your pay, fight for a living wage for all and because a demoralised and de-motivated workforce is not good for patients,” said Mr Creaney.
Staff Nurse at Craigavon Clare Martin said: “The NHS relies on nurses goodwill over and over again to provide services. We will always be there for our patients and during any strike action there will be emergency cover. But there is a general feeling, and people are upset, that they are working and trying there best and pay isn’t reflecting their value.”
A Health Department spokesperson said Minister Edwin Poots has not yet made an announcement on the pay awards for 2014 and is considering the pay review bodies’ recommendations and the implication for the service here.
“Health and social care staff in Northern Ireland are highly valued. The Health Minister, Edwin Poots recognises the commitment and pressures faced by staff and the need to protect frontline services and patient safety and care.”