Pharmacists working for the NHS in Northern Ireland, who are members of the Pharmacists’ Defence Association (PDA), are to be balloted on possible industrial action over the government’s proposed pay award for 2022/2023.
In a statement published by the PDA on 23 January 2023, the union said the decision followed a survey of its 7,000 members working in the NHS in England, Wales and Northern Ireland on whether any formal industrial action ballots should take place.
The PDA said more than 2,000 pharmacists responded to the survey, with 84% and 70% voting in favour of strike action in England and Wales, respectively.
However, the turnout of 32% in both countries did not meet the legal threshold required to carry out an industrial action ballot.
The PDA statement clarified that a formal ballot would require at least 50% of members balloted to participate and at least 40% of members balloted to vote yes for industrial action.
Both thresholds were met by pharmacists in Northern Ireland, where 94% of respondents called for strike action on a turnout of 80%.
“It can be seen from these figures that, although extremely high majorities of those voting were in favour of rejecting the pay award and for taking industrial action, neither the turnout nor voting yes criteria has been met in England or Wales,” the PDA’s statement said.
“A ballot will therefore not be held among members employed in the NHS in England or among members employed in the NHS in Wales, at this time.”
“In Northern Ireland, both thresholds have been achieved and therefore the PDA Union National Executive Committee has authorised an industrial action ballot to be run among members in this country,” the PDA statement continued.
“Most NHS unions did not achieve the thresholds for action to take place in England and Wales. In fact, only nurses, ambulance workers and physiotherapists are taking action there.
“More unions, however, including the Society of Radiographers and the Royal College of Midwives, did achieve the thresholds for strike action to be lawful in Northern Ireland.
“It is likely that more unions achieved yes votes in Northern Ireland largely because of no pay award being made in the absence of a functioning assembly,” the PDA explained in the statement, adding that its members in Northern Ireland “will receive separate further communications that will set out the timetable for the ballot”.
Hospital pharmacists were among thousands of NHS staff members balloted by the union Unite on possible industrial action in November 2022, ahead of potential strike action from January 2023. Unite has yet to confirm the results of the ballot.
In July 2022, the English and Welsh governments accepted recommendations from the NHS Pay Review Body to give NHS staff on the Agenda for Change scheme a pay award of at least £1,400 backdated to 1 April 2022.
Following this, Unite opened a consultative industrial action ballot for NHS staff in England and Wales in August 2022, which resulted in 84% of those balloted voting in favour of potential action.
Following the consultative ballot, the union sent further ballots to ambulance workers in England in October 2022 to confirm plans for industrial action.
Robin Swann, health minister for Northern Ireland, said in July 2022 that he would accept the recommendation made by the pay review body but was “unable to announce the immediate implementation of these pay awards locally as Northern Ireland still does not have an agreed Executive Budget for 2022/23”.
As of 23 January 2023, there are ten planned strike days for NHS staff in England, including ambulance service members and nurses, owing to the pay dispute.