Almost 12 months have passed since health unions in Northern Ireland began negotiations on pay, terms and conditions. These discussions began as a result of the acceptance of the Agenda for Change Refresh Agreement by health unions in England and Wales in 2018.
It is clear that the NICS and the Department of Finance Permanent Secretary, Sue Gray, have seriously underestimated the strength of feeling and the determination of NIPSA members and activists. If NIPSA ramps up its industrial action planning, with the organisation of strike committees in local areas and with the development of a strategy and tactics to take the dispute through to Christmas and into the new year, then this shambles of a Tory government can be forced to blink first.
The 2018/19 pay award is a complete slap in the face for workers who are justifiably angry, having seen their counterparts in Scotland receive 4% in comparison. After seven years of pay-restraint, many civil servants are using food banks, working second jobs or relying on credit to get by.
This is a crucial battle which deserves the support of all working-class people. A victory for the civil servants would act to boost the confidence of workers across both the public and private sectors and show that it is possible to fight back against poverty pay and austerity.
At the end of February, the Department of Health for Northern Ireland enforced a pay ‘award’ on health workers. This was imposed above the heads of the trade unions after an intense period of negotiations reached an impasse and workers gave overwhelming support for industrial action, including strike action, in consultative ballots conducted by the unions.
Those behind the recent bombing and security alerts in Derry offer nothing but a return to the futile conflict of the past. Their actions put lives at risk and only serve to whip up sectarian tensions in society and potentially legitimise attacks on democratic rights. These groups are opposed by the vast majority of people, Protestant, Catholic and neither.