UNISON strikers across Northern Ireland were making a 24-hour stand today from midnight (Wednesday 5th) to express their fears for cuts in the health and education services.
An estimated 1000 medical procedures have been cancelled across hospitals in Northern Ireland. The crux of the issue is the government’s attempt to claw back £2.3 billion of a deficit in the health service over the next four years and a lesser £300 million in the education budget. At a regional level, Unison members have decided to strike against the hard-hitting cuts starting to be imposed by government.
At the gates of the Downe Hospital picketers were there from early morning protesting against government policy. Downpatrick Unison member Paddy Milligan who works at the Downe Hospital said, “Our national health service should provide care from the cradle to the grave. It is now under serious pressure. The Belfast City Accident and Emergency Department closed recently and this is just the start of a process that will become all too familiar if we don’t take a stand now.
“The Downe Hospital is a great building and we must protect what it has in terms of services and skilled staff. It could all be eroded piecemeal. For example, the weekend switchboard service is now based in Lisburn and could it be a matter of time before even this service goes overseas?
“We are completely opposed to the McKinsey report and what it stands for. We are here to fight for jobs and services. Although not many nurses have joined the domestic, catering, and other services including Occupational Therapists here today, they have asked us on their behalf through the strike ballot for our support. The nurses are constantly complaining that they are overworked and exhausted. This strike is not about wages and pensions. It is about local people and workers and we are being stripped of our services slowly. It has to stop. Enough is enough.”
A spokesperson for the South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust said, “Services are being provided in line with regional guidelines agreed with Unison so that there will be no disruption to emergency care and to critical clinical services, including domiciliary care.
“Contingency arrangements are now in place and appear to be working well so far. Those patients whose outpatient appointments or elective surgery have been cancelled have been informed in advance. We are experiencing some level of disruption and there may be some delays but these are being appropriately managed. We are closely monitoring the situation.”
Unison Branch Secretary States The Case For The Strike
Dee Gillson, Unison Branch Secretary covering the SEELB area from Downpatrick to Bangor, said, “This strike is about jobs and services, not about pay and pensions. Our members are deeply concerned about what is happening. In education, we have seen the biggest reduction in class room assistants ever, supervisory assistants are under pressure, hours are being cut, the work load for cleaners is increasing, some sections of school work are being privatised, there is a lack of investment in special needs education, and catering assistants are pushed to the maximum. It is not a good picture.
“Even schools are now earmarked for closure as outlined in the Minister’s Report. None of our members likes striking. They lose a day’s pay and some of these workers on the picket lines have husbands who are already out of work. So this is a decision our members have not taken lightly. We are all standing together for both health AND education in opposing a reduction in services and job loses.”