Nurses in Northern Ireland could take part in industrial action for the first time ever following a ballot of Royal College of Nursing (RCN) members.
The RCN said its members are at least 10 per cent worse off in real terms than in 2008, and are the only nursing staff in the UK not to have secured a new pay deal.
If a majority backs industrial action it will lead to an end to working unpaid hours and other activities said to have been “imposed on nurses” but not directly related to nursing care – but stop short of strike action.
Janice Smyth, director of the RCN in Northern Ireland, said: “The failure to give a pay award to nurses in Northern Ireland is a failure in equality.
“Not only are our members now paid less than their counterparts in England, Scotland and Wales, but many other public servants in Northern Ireland have received a pay award, leaving nursing, a predominantly female profession, subjected to unfair treatment. An experienced staff nurse in Northern Ireland is now paid £279 a year less than in England and £561 a year less than in Scotland. The message that the care they provide to the people of Northern Ireland is not valued is being made loud and clear.”
The RCN has more than 14,000 members in Northern Ireland.
Ms Smyth said nurses were working under enormous pressure, and added: “The decision to ballot our members was not taken lightly. When we end up in a situation where there appears to be no alternative to industrial action, then we know that nursing staff have been pushed to the limit.
“The RCN has made efforts to engage in discussions about pay but unfortunately it would appear that nurses’ pay is not considered a priority for the DHSSPS.”