A health trust chief executive has urged his staff to suspend strike action to force Northern Ireland’s politicians to “put up or shut up” on equal pay.
Seamus McGoran, interim chief executive of South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust, said he sympathised with the strike and supported staff calls for pay parity with colleagues in the rest of the UK.
But he asked the trade unions to consider suspending their action to see if the issues could be addressed within the current talks process aimed at restoring powersharing.
The negotiations involving the UK and Irish governments and the five Stormont parties having a working deadline of January 13.
Mr McGoran told the PA news agency said such a move by the unions would force the politicians to “step up to the plate”.
The health chief said he had concerns for patient safety during the walkout but said he was confident if serious issues did emerge then the trade unions would make arrangements for some staff to come back on duty.
“I do think there is an opportunity for trade unions to consider suspending the current industrial action whilst our politicians get into a room and potentially have a local assembly before the January 13,” he said.
“If that doesn’t happen there will always be the option for trade unions to recommence industrial action.
“So I do hope there is enough ingredients out there that can maybe bring a suspension to the industrial action, but this is out-with the gift of the trusts and the Department of Health and this is very much in the political area.”
Mr McGoran said he understood why staff might not trust the region’s politicians to resolve the issue after three years without powersharing.
“I completely understand that and I think it is big ask for me to make as a chief executive and all of us as chief executives to make, but I think perhaps at least there is a deadline (to the talks) – it’s January 13 and it’s about three to four weeks away,” he said.
“So at least there’s maybe an opportunity to challenge our politicians and it’s a case of put up or shut up I suppose. So suspension is potentially a way of challenging our politicians to see if they will actually step up to the plate.”
Mr McGoran said Wednesday was an “extremely difficult day” as he apologised to those patients who had been hit by thousands of cancellations across the region.
“I absolutely sympathise with our staff,” he added.
“This has been many years in the making, and in fact our staff have been hugely understanding and patient and are always going beyond the extra mile.
“I think this is a major statement that they have had to make and it is disappointing that it has come to this point. However, I completely recognise the reason why they are doing this.”
He added: “This is going to be an extremely difficult day for health and social care.
“I would like to, on behalf of all of the chief executives across the region, apologise to anyone whose appointment or treatment or indeed any service has been cancelled.
“This is an anxious time for people out there and it’s really important that we recognise there’s a significant impact.”