A ‘constructive’ meeting has been held between health unions in Northern Ireland and the UK’s secretary of state for the devolved nation as pay talks continue, the Royal College of Nursing has said.
However, the dispute over Health and Social Care (HSC) staff pay in Northern Ireland remains ongoing with no formal offer on the table and no timeline established for the government there to provide a health budget.
Members of the unions met with Chris Heaton-Harris, secretary of state for Northern Ireland, last Thursday, seeking ‘urgent clarification’ on the issue of the pay award for NHS staff in Northern Ireland.
Anne Speed, head of bargaining and representation for Unison Northern Ireland, said that during the meeting unions ‘demanded to know when the budget can be expected, however, no clear date was identified’.
Ms Speed also confirmed that Unison would continue with action short of a strike in the absence of a deal.
Meanwhile, director of the RCN in Northern Ireland, Rita Devlin, said the unions had an ‘open and honest discussion with the secretary of state’ and had raised a ‘variety of issues which require urgent clarification, including a pay award for nursing staff in Northern Ireland’.
Ms Devlin added that Mr Heaton-Harris ‘set out a series of actions he is undertaking in relation to the establishment of a budget and advised us that he would seek clarification on our concerns’.
‘Following what we view as a constructive meeting, we will await the outcome of these requests and a further face to face meeting with trade unions and the secretary of state will then take place,’ she said.
‘Taking into consideration the complex political situation we are facing, we will make further decisions, and have full discussions with our members, when we receive the detailed information we have requested.’
Nurses in Northern Ireland were only offered a pay rise in line with what had previously been given to NHS staff in England, in December, receiving a pay rise of at least £1,400.
However, more recently, the UK Government has put forward an improved deal for nurses on Agenda for Change contracts in England, consisting of a one-off payment for 2022-23 worth between £1,655 and £3,789 and a permanent 5% uplift for 2023/24. This is currently being consulted on by unions.
Yet it remains unclear whether nurses in Northern Ireland will receive a comparable pay rise due to the absence of the Northern Irish executive.