Industrial action, including strike action, could go ahead in Northern Ireland after members of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) voted overwhelmingly in favour. The action is over the nurse staffing crisis and pay. This is the first time in the history of the organisation that RCN members have voted to take strike action.
The RCN says that there are nearly 3,000 unfilled nursing posts across the system, with a similar level of vacancies estimated in nursing homes. The cost of securing nursing staff through nursing agencies has also increased year on year.
The numbers were high, with 96% of those members who returned their ballot papers voting to take industrial action short of a strike, and 92% voting for strike action. The ballot involved RCN members working under Agenda for Change terms and conditions within Health and Social Care [HSC] in Northern Ireland.
The two questions posed on the ballot paper were:
In pursuance of the RCN claim for measures to address the recruitment and retention nursing crisis, and fair pay and reward, in Northern Ireland:
Are you prepared to take part in industrial action short of a strike? (which for this purpose includes but is not necessarily limited to refusing to carry out non-nursing duties, refusing to work unpaid excess hours, refusing to participate in non-urgent administration tasks, non-participation in bank work on designated days). (96.4% voted yes to this question)
Are you prepared to take part in industrial action consisting of strike action? (91.9% voted yes to this question)
The RCN UK Council will meet early next week to approve plans to take forward industrial action, including strike action, across HSC services in Northern Ireland.
‘Today, nursing staff in Northern Ireland have spoken clearly and collectively on behalf of patients and the people of Northern Ireland,’ said RCN Northern Ireland Director Pat Cullen. ‘Nurses are no longer willing to see patients being denied the healthcare services to which they are entitled. The 3,000 nursing vacancies that currently exist within the HSC are having a detrimental impact on patient care and adding enormous pressure to the existing nursing workforce, who are doing everything they can to care for patients.
Nurses’ pay in Northern Ireland has fallen significantly behind that in the rest of the UK. Not only is this completely unfair but it sends a strong message to nurses that they are not valued or respected by decision-makers and employers.’
RCN chief executive and general secretary, Dame Donna Kinnair said, ‘This is a day we had hoped not to reach, and the first time RCN members have voted to strike in our 103 year history. We did not take the decision to ballot members lightly. But the fact that nurses in Northern Ireland have now voted so overwhelmingly for industrial action, including strike action, shows how clearly they can see the risk to patient safety from staff shortages.’