Striking health workers: “We are in this for the long haul”

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Local health workers have vowed that they are determined to continue on with the fight for pay and conditions as they staged a second work stoppage.

A picket line was set up outside Altnagelvin Hospital from 8am on Monday with numerous health sector employees joining their colleagues throughout the morning.

Unite Regional Officer Gareth Scott (left) with Unite Steward Eddie Ryan at the picket line at Altnagelvin.

Unite Regional Officer Gareth Scott (left) with Unite Steward Eddie Ryan at the picket line at Altnagelvin.

Among the UNITE members taking part in the four-hour stoppage were ambulance personnel, hospital pharmacy staff, porters, cleaners and laboratory teams.

The action in Derry was matched by pickets at all other major hospitals across the north.

Unite representatives said the action was called because their members “cannot and will not sit back and take further cuts to our pay”.

Speaking to the Journal at the Altnagelvin picket line, Gareth Scott, UNITE regional organiser said: “The reason we are taking action today is that our current government is still refusing to pay the 1% pay increase that was recommended by the Pay Commission for Public Sector. We think that is a disgrace sand that our people deserve that pay increase.

Mr Scott added that there were also concerns among health staff about the financing of the NHS.

“Not only is there the issue about pay but there is wider concerns about the ongoing deficit within health in Northern Ireland and across the public sector, and certainly there would be deep concerns about what kind of cuts will be required to meet those savings.”

Eddie Ryan, a support services chef and local shop steward, was among those at the Derry picket line. He said: “The workers are very angry. They are very angry on a number of fronts. Scotland and Wales have been given the pay rise, but with England and Northern Ireland, Jeremy Hunt has refused to pay that. He is claiming there is insufficient funds. We know otherwise and we are going to be in this for the long haul.”

SDLP Foyle MP Mark Durkan, backing the workers, said the negative effect on morale of the deterioration in pay standards was being compounded by service stresses.

The Foyle MP, who also recently co-sponsored a parliamentary motion at Westminster condemning the British government’s decision to reject the Independent Pay Review Body’s recommendation that all NHS staff receive a 1% cost of living pay increase, said: “I fully support the Health Service workers at Altnagelvin who are staging a four-hour strike today.

“The government has restricted pay rises for nurses, midwives and healthcare assistants for over four years.

“The projected ongoing flat pay freeze for hard pressed public servants especially in health and care services was one of my reasons for voting against the Budget.”

Responding to the concerns raised by the workers, Health Minister Jim Wells said today:

“It is regrettable that Unite has decided to continue its industrial action. I have made known my intention to exercise a degree of restraint over pay, given the financial challenges and the need to prioritise front line service provision.

“Subject to the necessary approvals, staff will therefore receive either the incremental progression to which they are entitled or a 1% non-consolidated pay award if they are at the top of the pay scale.

“HSC staff are our greatest asset and I recognise well their hard work and commitment. I understand that Staff Side and Management Side are working to the same industrial relations protocol to ensure that patient safety is not compromised.”

Mr Wells added: “My Department is keen to work in partnership with trade unions on an affordable HSC pay system going forward.”