In an unprecedented move, the RCN in Northern Ireland has committed to ballot its members on industrial action, short of strike action, over pay following the failure of the DHSSPS to give nurses any pay award for 2015-2016.
Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK in which nursing staff have not received any pay award and nurses are now at least 10% worse off in real terms than in 2008.
RCN Northern Ireland Director Janice Smyth said: "The failure to give a pay award to nurses in Northern Ireland is a failure in equality. Not only are our members now paid less than their counterparts in England, Scotland and Wales, but many other public servants in Northern Ireland have received a pay award, leaving nursing, a predominantly female profession, subjected to unfair treatment.
“An experienced staff nurse in Northern Ireland is now paid £279 a year less than in England and £561 a year less than in Scotland. The message that the care they provide to the people of Northern Ireland is not valued is being made loud and clear.
“Nurses and health care assistants are committed and dedicated to the care of patients. This is borne out in practice when, as a result of trying to provide nursing care in a system that is not fit for purpose, they often take on additional roles to ensure the effective delivery of services. This has resulted in enormous pressure on the nursing workforce.
“The decision to ballot our members was not taken lightly. When we end up in a situation where there appears to be no alternative to industrial action, then we know that nursing staff have been pushed to the limit.
“The RCN has made efforts to engage in discussions about pay but unfortunately it would appear that nurses pay is not considered a priority for the DHSSPS.”
The RCN Northern Ireland Board is currently considering options for industrial action that excludes strike action. This includes the cessation of working unpaid hours and many activities that have been imposed on nurses that are not directly related to nursing care and which, if properly resourced and managed, would be the responsibility of others.