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Northern Ireland pay deal to be implemented, despite union split

Health and Social Care (HSC) staff in Northern Ireland are torn over the pay offer in the country, as health unions have unveiled their ballot results. But the deal will now be implemented.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) said that its members have voted to reject the pay offer, while members belonging to Unison, Unite and the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) have voted to accept.

“It has been disappointing to say the least that we couldn’t, at the bare minimum, reach a pay offer that is equal to others”

Rita Devlin

As a result of most unions voting in favour, the Department of Health in Northern Ireland said it would move to implement the offer.

The deal includes a 5% pay rise and a one-off non-consolidated payment of £1,505 for all HSC staff working on Agenda for Change contacts. These payments will be backdated to April 2023.

The much-anticipated offer was put forward following restoration of power-sharing in the Northern Ireland assembly and executive last month.

In January, public sector staff had taken to picket lines over a lack of progress on pay prior to the return fo power-sharing, in what was described as the biggest strike in Northern Ireland’s recent history.

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Today, Unison announced that its members had voted to accept the department’s latest pay offer, following recommendation from the union that they should do so.

Some 77% of members voted to accept, while 23% voted to reject. The union said it would now move to get the pay uplift and non-consolidated sum into members’ pockets “as quickly as possible”.

In a statement, Unison noted that the new pay round for 2024-25 was coming up already and that it was preparing its campaigning strategy.

It said it had particular concerns around the fact that Northern Ireland and England were “now behind pay movement in Scotland and Wales”, and lower pay bands were falling behind real living wage levels.

Separately, the RCM also announced that its members in Northern Ireland had accepted the pay offer.

In its consultation of members, 86% voted to accept and 14% voted to reject. The union had recommended that its members to accept.

Karen Murray, RCM Northern Ireland director, said: “We all want to move forward and work together to bring about the improvements to maternity services that women and families and the staff who care for them deserve.

“The past few years have been difficult, and we know that staff pay – and morale – has fallen below that of other parts of the UK.

“Rebuilding trust will be vital as we move forward, and I look forward to working with the minister to make that happen.”

In addition, members of Unite voted to accept the improved pay offer, with an 81% majority.

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Unite’s regional officer for health in Northern Ireland, Brenda Stevenson, said: “This is a tremendous win for health workers in Northern Ireland.

“Shockingly, this is now the second time in five years that healthcare workers in Northern Ireland have had to stand on picket lines in winter to defend NHS pay parity,” she said.

“We cannot afford to see a repeat,” she said. “Unite will now continue to work alongside the other health unions to secure legislation guaranteeing NHS pay parity and mandating safe staffing levels.”

However, the RCN announced this afternoon that its members had voted to reject the pay offer.

Of those eligible to vote, 56% voted to reject, while 44% voted to accept. The union had not made a recommendation on how to vote.

The RCN’s Northern Ireland director, Rita Devlin, said the college vote showed that nurses in the country would “not tolerate being treated unequally and unfairly”.

It comes as the RCN had previously raised concerns that the non-consolidated part of the pay deal fell short of what nurses in England had received.

Nurses and other NHS staff in England were handed a one-off bonus for 2022-23 of between £1,655 for band 1 to £3,789 for the top of band 9.

Ms Devlin said: “While Northern Ireland has been in political turmoil over the past two years, nursing staff have continued to treat and care for patients, despite having no pay rise and facing unprecedented cost of living pressures.

“It has been disappointing to say the least that we couldn’t, at the bare minimum, reach a pay offer that is equal to others.”

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The union said it remained in dispute with the government in Northern Ireland and that the RCN board would meet as a matter of urgency to consider the ballot results and to determine next steps.

Ms Devlin said: “There is no doubt, though, that we have been given a mandate by members to fight even harder for fair pay for nursing staff, regardless of their postcode.”

In a statement responding to the ballot results, the Department of Health in Northern Ireland said: “The health minister and department welcome the decisive outcome of trade union ballots on the pay offer tabled in February.

“The department will now move to implement the offer,” they said. “This settlement will restore pay parity with England for all health and social care staff covered by the Agenda for Change framework.”

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