Trade union colleagues advised Departmental officials and HSC employers of their intention to hold a consultative ballot when they met for the last Agenda for Change engagement meeting on 5 October.
This ongoing engagement has been useful and we hope that this will be a continuing means of ensuring that there are clear lines of communication as we move forward.
The Department and HSC employers are doing everything they can within existing constraints to make progress on health and social care pay in Northern Ireland – but it is not a straightforward process. We are listening very carefully to the concerns of health and social care workers in Northern Ireland, and understand their frustration. However, in the absence of an Executive Pay Policy for 2018/19, we are unable to formally negotiate. Trade unions also are correct in acknowledging that we have a funding issue at present, as the Barnett consequentials for Northern Ireland from the recently-announced increases in health spending in England are still to be confirmed.
We hope to have some more clarity soon. In the meantime, we acknowledge the work of all our health and social care workers, and pay tribute to their skill and dedication in very trying circumstances.
Notes to editors:
- The Department of Health cannot make a health and social care staff pay award until an overarching Northern Ireland public sector pay policy is set. That has yet to be put in place for 2018/19.
- Public sector pay policy is normally a matter for the Finance Minister from the NI Executive. Last year, the Department of Finance set a pay policy for 2017/18 amid little prospect of an imminent return of the Executive.
- The context has changed since then, given the Buick case judgment on civil service decision-making and a new approach to public sector pay adopted by Ministers in the UK Government. New legislation on decision-making in Northern Ireland is planned by the Secretary of State, which it is hoped will help inform the way ahead on pay.
- Affordability is another key factor with all public sector pay. It is a matter of record that the health budget is facing considerable pressure at present and that this is not expected to ease.
- Northern Ireland will receive additional money as a result of the increase agreed in Britain for staff covered by the Agenda for Change NHS pay framework. Such funding allocations are known as Barnett consequentials, as they are calculated according to the Barnett Formula on funding for devolved regions.
- The Barnett consequentials from the Agenda for Change health pay deal across the water have to yet to be confirmed. The total is expected to be included in the UK Government’s Autumn Budget. Suggestions that the Department of Health NI has been allocated a sum have no basis in fact.
- The pay deal Barnett consequentials will not fully meet the cost of like-for-like increases for Agenda for Change employees here. That’s because the Agenda for Change pay framework covers health and social care workers in N Ireland, compared to just health staff in England. The Barnett consequentials will give NI its share for a health staff increase, but will not cover social care employees.
- Department of Health officials are doing everything they can to make progress on this issue. In advance of a NI pay policy being set, officials are engaging with trade unions to keep lines of communication open. Four engagement meetings have been held between Departmental officials, Health and Social Care employers and trade unions, with the most recent taking place on 5 October.
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