Strike ballot date set as staff underpaid

Hospital protest
Hospital protest

Local health workers are to be balloted on May 23 on strike action after Unison members rejected the government’s one per cent pay offer.

And there may be industrial action sooner after many workers were underpaid due to a glitch in a new pay roll system.

Unison is to ballot for industrial action over underpayment of staff unless it gets a satisfactory response within 48 hours. The union said thousands of healthcare workers were affected by the introduction of a new payroll system.

Nursing and other health staff at the Southern Trust have been affected by problems with the system.

However the Southern Trust said the Business Service Organisation which runs the payroll system is to notify all relevant employees and make sure their money is paid by Friday or the beginning of next week at the latest.

One individual claimed they were being underpaid more than £1,500. And a nurse - who is owed £700 - said staff are outraged.

Ray Rafferty from Unison has called for an urgent meeting with the health minister to address the situation.

“No-one wants to have a strike in the health service, but that’s what it’s coming to, because the bottom line is the system is failing the staff who provide the care for the people of Northern Ireland.

“I’m demanding a meeting with him now so that we can publicly discuss this and let our members know what is going to happen to fix the problem. “If not, then we will put it to our members - are they prepared to take industrial action over this. We need people paid within the next 48-hours.”

Damien Maguire from NIPSA said strike action could “well be on the cards”. “Many workers are returning after the Easter break, many are going to find their pay wrong again,” he said. “It’s very clear that the system is not working properly. We are calling for the Public Accounts Committee to look into the cost of this system and why is it not working.”

Unison members at Craigavon Hospital and throughout the southern area will be balloted between May 23 for four weeks. If members are prepared to take industrial action, there may be a strike in July.

“Members have rejected the constant decline in NJC pay and services run on goodwill and under-investment in the workforce,” says UNISON branch chairman at Craigavon John Creaney.

A spokesperson for the Southern Health and Social Care Trust said: “In April, some monthly-paid staff in the Southern Trust experienced an unusual adjustment for national insurance contributions. The Trust understands that this has also happened in the other Health and Social Care organisations. This bug in the system has emerged at the start of the new tax year and work is ongoing between the Business Services Organisation and the software supplier to ensure it is fixed and that there is no reoccurrence of the problem. The Trust has been assured by the Business Services Organisation that work is ongoing to notify all relevant employees and ensure that they will have the money paid to their bank accounts by Friday or the beginning of next week at the latest.”

A DHSSPS spokesperson said health minister Edwin Poots is ‘extremely concerned’ and said additional expertise has been provided to Trusts to help them to minimise any future difficulties. Chief Executives have been advised improvements must be made and the Minister expects all relevant organisations to act quickly to redress any loss.