Nurses at Altnagelvin staged a picket this morning as part of ongoing strike action by the trade union Unison for pay parity with NHS workers in Scotland, England and Wales.
UNISON Regional Secretary, Patricia McKeown said: “Our dispute continues and today our nursing members at Altnagelvin Hospital join the picket lines demanding pay justice and safe staffing levels for the public. UNISON nurses are the first to the picket lines in this dispute.
"The latest proposal by the Department of Health has been rejected because it does not deliver pay parity. The Department is insisting that it cannot deliver pay parity in the absence of Ministerial authority, a position that is not credible in the face of this growing crisis.
"We have written to the Secretary of State calling on him to use his influence to secure the full resources needed to secure pay parity.
"We have written to the leaders of the five parties that can form a future Executive asking them to clearly say to the Secretary of State that the health service should not be used as leverage in advance of the political talks scheduled for December 16."
On Thursday the Department of Health met with trade unions to outline fresh pay proposals to end the current industrial dispute.
The department said the new offer involved an additional £28m but was rejected by the unions.
Permanent Secretary Richard Pengelly said: “It is a matter of great regret that unions have taken this position, indicating that industrial action will now escalate. This will impact significantly on patient care in an already very challenging period for the health service.
“We have made a sizeable new offer. In the absence of Ministers, this is the furthest I am able to go. It is therefore the final offer for this year.
“Our proposals involve a projected 3.1% increase in the overall pay bill for Agenda for Change staff. This allows us to mirror the English NHS pay settlement for this year, as we did in 2018/19 when a 3% increase was awarded.
“This was always our intention. It had not been possible up to now within the budget we had at our disposal.
“We were informed by Department of Finance colleagues yesterday that an additional £28m is now available for this financial year. That has led to today’s increased offer.
“I accept it does not address everything trade unions wanted. That will require a Minister and longer term budgetary certainty. Neither does it resolve the financial and other challenges which the Department is facing.
“While we cannot make a firm offer for next year in the absence of a budget, it is my clear intention to replicate the third year of the three year Agenda for Change pay settlement in 2020/21. We did that in 2018/19 and today’s offer does the same for this year.”
But as the strike continued Ms. McKeown said: "Whilst we don’t accept the Department’s position that they need Ministerial authority to grant workers pay parity, we have also asked the party leaders to write directly to the Department telling them to implement pay parity and resolve this dispute. If the Department thinks it needs political cover then we don’t see why this won’t give that to them.
"All UNISON members across the entire health and social services system will today continue industrial action short of strike. Categories of staff taking this action will include nursing, ambulance service staff, support services staff, admin, clerical and managerial staff, social services and social care staff, professional and technical staff and all those staff working across the various health services agencies."