In partnership with the other health trade unions in Northern Ireland, this was put to the Department of Health and HSC employers in a formal proposal on 26 September 2018.
The Department of Health unilaterally announced a formal pay offer for staff on 22 November 2018. The RCN recognises that low-paid staff will, under this award, receive the national minimum living wage. Nurses support this move and the RCN commends it. However, for the majority of our members, the pay award announced in November falls significantly short of the 3% minimum proposal. A significant number of nurses have received a 1.5% pay uplift, equating to between £7.50 and £8.50 per week. Furthermore, it denies many nurses and other staff the incremental pay progression to which they are contractually entitled.
This pay announcement must be viewed in the context of the growing pay gap between Northern Ireland and the other countries of the UK, where three-year pay deals have been agreed. All of this is taking place at a time when we have 2,524 vacant nursing posts in the HSC and when the cost of employing nurses via nursing agencies has grown from £10 million in 2012-2013 to £32 million in 2017-2018, with up to 40% of this money going directly to the agencies rather than in to nurses’ pay.
In November 2018, the RCN conducted a consultative ballot of members employed by the HSC on Agenda for Change contracts in Northern Ireland. Our members made it overwhelmingly clear that, if agreement on pay could not be reached, they are prepared to be balloted for industrial action. Under the direction of the RCN Northern Ireland Board, the Trade Union Committee of RCN Council, and RCN Council we continue to engage with members in advance of any potential ballot.
A new RCN pay campaign leaflet, setting out the growing inequalities in pay for Northern Ireland nurses compared with colleagues in the rest of the UK as from 1 April 2019, can be downloaded here.
On 10 April 2019, the RCN UK Council approved a request from the RCN Northern Ireland Board to ballot members employed within the HSC on industrial action, including strike action. The RCN also announced a series of public meetings across Northern Ireland on pay and safe staffing. RCN Northern Ireland Director Janice Smyth said: “The RCN believes that the shortage of nursing staff has become a matter of public interest and a public safety issue, as nurses are raising their concerns that staffing shortages are affecting their ability to provide safe and effective care for patients. It is time to explain to the people of Northern Ireland why nursing services are now at crisis point, how this situation has developed, and seek their support for the measures that the RCN believes are necessary to resolve this crisis.” The dates and venues for these events are available here.