Members of the largest trade union in the Northern Ireland health and social care system, Unison, have voted to strike over pay and staffing levels.
Unison leaders, who represent tens of thousands of health workers including nurses, social care workers and support staff such as carers, will meet on Friday to finalise a “comprehensive industrial action plan” following the vote.
Unison are the second trade union to back strike action over pay and staffing in the health service in Northern Ireland in as many weeks.
Members of the Royal College of Nursing voted in favour of strike action in a similar ballot that closed last week — the first time in that organisation’s 113 year history that its members have backed a strike in any part of the UK.
Talks between trade unions and officials at the Department of Health at Stormont closed on Friday without agreement.
Trade unionists say it is unfair that pay rates are lower in Northern Ireland than in other parts of the UK for the same jobs.
Patricia McKeown, regional secretary at Unison, said: “Health workers do not take industrial action lightly but they have been pushed to the brink.
“Responsibility for averting this critical situation lies with the Department of Health, the head of the Northern Ireland civil service and the Department of Finance.
“They must access the funding necessary to resolve the pay problem and begin to address safe staffing levels as a matter of extreme urgency.”