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Strike for fair pay commences

Pay & Contracts
Jennifer Trueland

Rejection of demand for full pay restoration forces walk-out in Northern Ireland

Junior doctors in Northern Ireland begin a 48-hour strike for better remuneration.

It is the second full walk-out in a continuing campaign to win a fair pay deal. A third strike is due to take place next month.

Fiona Griffin, chair of the BMA Northern Ireland junior doctors committee, said they were left with no choice – and called on health minister Robin Swann to listen and act on doctors’ concerns.

‘We did not want to have to escalate industrial action, but our key ask around pay, including a commitment to work towards full pay restoration, was rejected by the health minister. This left us with no choice but to escalate our action.

‘We have now met with the minister, but there was absolutely no movement from him in terms of our asks around pay. Our mandate is for better pay for junior doctors but it is clear that improving pay for junior doctors is not a priority. Contract reform while welcome is not addressing the core issue. Paying us what the Review Body on Doctors' and Dentists' Remuneration recommended last year is the minimum that they can do, and it is also lamentable that it has not yet been paid, a full year after the recommendation was made.’

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Dr Griffin

The Department of Health in Northern Ireland said health and social care trusts would work to mitigate the effect on patients, but significant disruption was expected on the two strike days and during the following days.

‘The department stands ready to continue discussions with the junior doctors committee and does not accept that talks have “collapsed”,’ a spokesperson said. ‘There are important issues of substance to be progressed, including reform of the current junior doctor contract in Northern Ireland. The department has offered a process of independent arbitration, but this has not been taken up to date.’

The spokesperson added that the recommendations of the review body for 2023/24 (the last financial year) had now been implemented and that doctors would receive the award in June’s pay run. This would bring an average pay rise of 9.07 per cent for junior doctors.

‘The department cannot resolve the BMA demand for pay restoration – for a pay settlement that reverses public sector pay limits over the past decade and more,’ the spokesperson said. ‘That’s an issue that has impacted public sector employees across the UK as a result of UK Government policy. It is a national issue that cannot be resolved locally.’

'It can be called off'

Dr Griffin said there was a willingness elsewhere in the UK to discuss pay and move to pay restoration, which showed it could be done. ‘This strike and the next one in June do not need to happen,’ Dr Griffin said. ‘It can be called off today if a credible offer was put forward that included steps towards full pay restoration.’

The walk-out – which will see junior doctors withdraw their labour in hospitals and GP practices across Northern Ireland – is due to end at 7am on Friday 24 May. The next strike is expected to take place from 6 to 8 June. It follows the first strike action in March, after doctors voted overwhelmingly in favour of industrial action for full pay restoration.

According to BMA figures, junior doctor pay has eroded by more than 30 per cent in Northern Ireland since 2008.