HEALTH workers on the picket line outside the Mater have claimed that staff are leaving the hospital to work in England where the wages are higher.
Members of Unite the Union, Unison, NIPSA and the Society of Radiographers, the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy and the Royal College of Midwives were all out on strike over 48 hours on Thursday and Friday.
Staff outside the Mater Hospital told the North Belfast News they were underpaid, struggling to retain staff and that a lack of staff was being filled by workers from Britain who were being paid a higher wage.
Health workers in Britain were offered a pay uplift for 2023-2024 and a below-inflation pay award for 2022-2023 but their colleagues in the North have not been offered this due to the North's Secretary of State Chris Heaton-Harris refusing to implement the payment in a bid to coax the DUP to end their boycott of Stormont.
NHS workers in England received a five per cent increase in 2022-23 and a one-time payment of £1,655, which workers in the North haven't be offered.
Aine Brennan, a Branch Secretary for Unison, said the Mater was struggling desperately to retain staff who were moving to Britain for higher pay.
“We haven’t achieved pay parity," she said. "We were out on strike in 2019 and 2020 and the Health Minister told us that never again would we be paid less than others in the UK.
“We’re out here to tell the Secretary of State, who has it in his power, to give us a pay raise. He has done this for the fire brigade, which is a male dominated organistion and they didn’t have to strike for one day.
“We feel as if we are being used. We can’t retain staff, we can’t recruit staff. Nurses who are qualifying are going to go across the water and get paid better. At the moment what they’re doing is bringing in ones from England to work in our wards and they’re getting paid the wage they would get in England, so they are working with us but getting paid more than us and getting put up in hotels."
Aine said the rate of pay for workers was so low that many were earning more working in supermarkets than in the health system.
“For our lower paid workers, they earn more working in a supermarket than they do here so we just can’t retain staff. For the Mater, we were the Covid hospital. We treated the most serious cases. These people gave it their all, they weren’t working from home or on furlough they were in every day fighting Covid. People are just talking with their feet at the moment and leaving for work elsewhere.
“We’re being used as political pawns. The DUP have no interest though in coming back because this doesn’t affect them. We invited every single party down here to join us on the picket line and from the DUP we didn’t even receive the courtesy of a reply."