The union is balloting the country’s health service staff over possible industrial action to put pressure on Department of Health bosses to close the gap between NHS workers in Northern Ireland and those in other parts of the UK.
“Employees in Glasgow, Birmingham or Cardiff shouldn’t be valued more than those in Belfast, Newry or Ballymena,” Unison Northern Ireland’s Head of Bargaining, Anne Speed, said.
“The health service’s future will only be secure when there’s the investment in pay that is so badly needed,” she added.
Because pay increases are awarded by the devolved government in Northern Ireland and do not always match the agreements made in other parts of the UK, NHS workers in Northern Ireland have only been offered a one-year deal of pay raises between 1.5% and 3% compared with three-year pay deals elsewhere.
This means that a nurse or paramedic in Scotland could take home £24,670, but a worker doing the same job in Northern Ireland earns just £22,795.
Unison has been negotiating with Northern Ireland’s Department of Health and Northern Ireland employers for eight months to close this pay gap, but progress has stalled after the devolved government said it could not afford to pay Northern Irish workers the same rate as their colleagues in other parts of the UK.
“The Department of Health is being penny wise and pound foolish,” Anne Speed said. “They’re spending millions on agency staff, which could be used instead to pay permanent staff fairly.”
NHS workers across Northern Ireland are now considering action short of a strike.