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On 18 January RCN members in all health and social care trusts in Northern Ireland were back out on picket lines to demand a return to pay parity with nursing staff in England.     

They joined other unions in a strike that brought public services to a standstill throughout the country.  

They are, once again, the worst paid in the UK

It’s been 4 years since members in Northern Ireland first took to picket lines to fight for fair pay and patient safety in our historic first ever strike action.

While NHS nursing staff across the rest of the UK have been awarded a pay rise for 2023-2024, their equivalent colleagues in Northern Ireland have been left with nothing, during one of the worst cost-of-living crises in years. They are, once again, the worst paid in the UK. 

Why haven’t nursing staff had a pay rise in Northern Ireland? 

Over the past 9 months, RCN members in Northern Ireland employed under Agenda for Change terms and conditions have waited for the implementation of the 2023-2024 pay offer.  

However, with no functioning Assembly and Executive in Northern Ireland, and inaction from the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the pay offer has not been given to nursing staff. 

Last month it was widely reported that the financial package negotiated between the Secretary of State and the 5 main political parties included an allocation to facilitate a pay offer.  

Briege Quinn board chair, RCN Northern Ireland

Briege Quinn, Chair of the RCN Northern Ireland Board (pictured above), said nursing staff were left with absolutely no choice but to strike.  

“This is as much about patient care as it is about pay. If we don’t value and pay our nurses what they’re worth, the recruitment and retention crisis we’re facing will continue to deepen.  

“Unless this situation is resolved, I fear for the health service, I fear for the staff, but most of all, I fear for the patients who deserve a much better service.”  

What was said on the picket lines? 

RCN members on picket line in Nothern Ireland in January 2024

Staff nurse Daliya Francis (pictured above, far right) came to the UK in 2022. She said that participating in her first ever strike was really challenging. She added: "This is for my colleagues and for my internationally educated nursing peers. I never thought I would have to do this. Our wages don't cover our life expenses."

"We shouldn't have to be here again," said cancer nurse and RCN steward Edel CoulterWatch (below) as she explains why she felt she had to go on strike. 

UK-wide support 

On the day, RCN members in Northern Ireland were supported by the public and colleagues throughout the UK who posted their messages of solidarity on social media.

One said: "Solidarity with our NI colleagues. Disgraceful politicians have allowed this to happen." While another commented: “Fantastic! So proud of the Northern Irish. I'm standing right with you." 

This is not the end. If politicians don’t listen, the RCN will continue to act.  

Rita Devlin, Director of the RCN in Northern Ireland said it's "immoral and reprehensible" that 4 years after we secured pay parity, members were still having to make the same demand.  

Rota Devlin on picket line January 2024

Pictured above left, Rita Devlin alongside RCN members on a picket line 

"Our politicians promised we would never again fall out of pay parity with our UK colleagues, but that is precisely what has happened," she said.  

"The fact that we have been told that money is there for a pay rise but is being withheld for political reasons is quite unbelievable. Our members are angry, they’re frustrated, and they’re no longer willing to accept this unfair and unjustifiable treatment."  

Further information 

Watch RCN General Secretary and Chief Executive Pat Cullen’s video message to striking nursing staff ahead of the day.


Images by Simon Graham, Aaron McCracken and Francis Lavery.

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