Royal College of Nursing warns it is considering strike action over lack of pay award

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) is actively considering a full resumption of strike action due to the lack of a pay award, UTV understands.

The college which represents thousands of nurses in Northern Ireland has written to the Secretary of State Chris Heaton-Harris and all the main political party leaders warning them that nurses patience has run out.

In a letter seen by UTV, the Director of the RCN Rita Devlin said, "The options that we are actively considering, of course, include a full resumption of strike action over the pay award.

"Our members have been extremely patient over the last nine months and have allowed our politicians the time and space to come to an agreement that would facilitate the implementation of a pay award."

Last month, the Secretary of State confirmed a £3billion financial package for Northern Ireland, including money to be able to give public sector workers pay awards, but the money will only be made available for a restored Stormont Executive.

The letter continued: "Our members’ patience has now been exhausted and we are no longer prepared to sit back while nursing staff in Northern Ireland are being deployed against their will in an apparently-endless political charade.

Responding to RCN'S letter, a Northern Ireland Office spokesperson said: “The Secretary of State’s talks on stabilising the finances of a returning Executive with the four parties eligible to form the Northern Ireland Executive have now concluded."The generous package offered by the UK Government is worth over £3bn, including up to £584m to address public sector pay, and more than £1bn to stabilise Northern Ireland’s public services."The Secretary of State has expressed his disappointment that a new executive was not up and running to take this offer and deliver it for the people of NI before Christmas."However, this package is on the table and will remain there, available on day one of an incoming Northern Ireland Executive to take up.“It is now for the NI Parties to come together, restore the Executive and begin to address the challenges facing the people of Northern Ireland, including public sector pay.”

During the talks at Hillsborough Castle in December the five main political parties argued there should be no strings attached to Stormont's return and the money should be made available now, insisting that it is not fair practice to link fair pay to a political agreement.

Responding to the letter the DUP said: “The DUP fully supports the principle of pay parity between health and social care staff in Great Britain and Northern Ireland. We want to see nurses, doctors and other vital public servants receive a fair pay award which can not only be delivered for this financial year, but on the basis that NI has sustainable financial resources to ensure that fair pay can also be delivered in future years as well.”Also responding the Ulster Unionist Party, party health spokesperson Alan Chambers MLA said: “The RCN are correct to refer to ‘an apparently endless political charade’ but the finger of blame can only be pointed at the DUP for a situation that is causing every person in Northern Ireland to feel the effects of the punishing consequences of the current absence of responsible devolved government.

“If a return to Stormont is not imminent then the Secretary of State must legislate to honour pay parity for health workers as a matter of urgency.

Michelle O'Neill spoke out in support of the RCN saying: “I extend New Year greetings and solidarity to all the members of the RCN.

 “I also understand their frustration as they continue to play such an incredible and difficult role within our health and social care system despite the current huge winter pressures currently facing staff.

 “As First Minister designate, I am committed to getting an Executive established so we can get on with dealing with the challenges facing health and social care. That includes pay and conditions, tackling lengthy waiting lists, recruiting more doctors and nurses and funding vital health and other essential public services. 

“As pressure mounts again this week on Accident and  Emergency services I once again urge the DUP to end its damaging blockade and get back to work around the Executive table.   

“We have also made clear that in the absence of an Executive that the British Secretary of State should move immediately to implement fair pay rises for all health and social care staff and public service workers. There should be no more delays."

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