Statement by Department on discussions with Trade Unions

Date published: 22 November 2019

The Department of Health is deeply disappointed that pay talks with Trade Unions have ended today without agreement and we are moving towards damaging industrial action.

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Details of the formal pay offer made earlier this week have now been published.

The offer represents a 2.1% increase to the pay bill for Agenda for Change – the framework covering most of the NI Health and Social Care workforce. All pay increases would be backdated to April 2019. In addition, eligible staff would also get pay progression increases to move them towards the top of their respective pay bands. Pay progression adds in the region of 1% to the pay bill – on the top of any annual pay increase.

The Department has also proposed an independently facilitated process to agree on a detailed and fully costed programme of proposed measures to resolve pay issues and workforce pressures within five years, for consideration by incoming Ministers.

Richard Pengelly, Permanent Secretary of the Department of Health, said: “We have worked hard with Trade Unions to make progress in very difficult circumstances.

“In addition to the pay offer, the Department has also proposed an independently facilitated process with unions to develop long term and sustainable solutions on pay and workforce issues. This proposal was in line with what has been requested publicly by at least one Trade Union. The Department’s suggested way forward was explained at length in the meeting with Trade Unions today, and it is regrettable that this has been rejected. Officials remain very willing to discuss and indeed take part in an independently facilitated process which we consider is a much safer and more constructive approach to breaking what has become an impasse.

“While I would have preferred to be in a position to make a higher pay offer, this is the best we can afford given the budgetary constraints and limited authority in the absence of a Minister. Of course, a returning Minister would be able to revisit this issue, with the greater ability to address the affordability constraint.  Suspending industrial action and participating in the process we have suggested would not prevent that from happening.

“There are widespread concerns that this winter will be particularly challenging for health and social care services here and across these islands.

“We have asked the Trade Unions to defer industrial action as it will inevitably make a difficult situation worse. It is open to them to ballot their members on our offer.

“While we believe that the Trade Unions will do all they can to avert adverse impacts on services resulting from industrial action, potentially we are entering a situation where none of us can predict what the consequences might be.

“Trusts and other HSC colleagues have developed contingency plans to mitigate potential disruption as much as possible. The continued focus during the period of industrial action will be on the provision of safe care.”

Notes to editors: 

1. The Department’s pay offer involves a projected £51.17m cost to the health budget this year.

2. The Department wanted to offer a 3% overall increase to match the Agenda for Change increase in England this year. The funding for that increase is not available.

3. To restore full pay parity with England would cost in the region of £100m. The decision to diverge from GB pay rates was taken when the NI Assembly was in operation. The Department has made clear that it has neither the budget nor the authority to overturn previous Ministerial decisions and meet this demand

4. For media enquiries please contact the Department of Health Press Office on 028 9052 0575 or email For out of hours please contact the Duty Press Officer on 028 9037 8110.

5. Follow us on Twitter @healthdpt

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