HEALTH workers’ unions have suspended strike action following positive talks with the Department of Health.
The announcement comes after an offer from the newly-elected health minister Robin Swann to bring healthcare workers’ pay back into line with the rate in England, and to try and increase staffing levels.
Unison and RCN members protested over pay parity and ‘unsafe’ staffing levels while hundreds of appointments and clinics were cancelled as a result of the strikes.
RCN members were due to strike again on Monday, Wednesday and Friday next week.
The move is estimated to cost around £109m, and new Health Minister at Stormont Robin Swann Mr Swann told assembly it would cost an extra £30m that would come from ‘drawing forward proposed allocations for future years’.
He added that increased staffing levels would not be possible immediately but he will put plans in place in relation to safe staffing.
Pat Cullen, director of the RCN in Northern Ireland, said the strikes have been a ‘long and difficult road for nurses in Northern Ireland’.
She added, “Our next step will be to consult our members in Northern Ireland in relation to the offer on pay parity and safe staffing.”
Anne Speed, Unison’s head of bargaining, said the union will ballot its members with a recommendation to accept the agreement.
Ms Speed said, “This Framework Agreement has been endorsed by the Minister for Health and restores pay parity with health workers in England with effect from April 1, 2019. It also sets out a funded framework for safe staffing.”
Mr Swann has warmly welcomed announcements by health unions Unison and RCN suspending industrial action.
The Minister said, “This has been a very difficult time but I believe everyone across the health and social care system can now move forward together.
“Today’s announcements will be welcomed by many – not least by patients and of course staff who took industrial action with a very heavy heart.”