NORTHERN Irish ambulance workers walked out yesterday after the Northern Ireland Executive refused their request for a 1 per cent pay rise.
The industrial action by members of the Unite union began at midnight on Tuesday.
Unite represents about a quarter of workers at the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service (NIAS), but other staff belonging to the Unison and GMB unions are already on a 14-day work-to-rule action as part of the same dispute.
The meagre 1 per cent pay demand matches the award already agreed with NHS staff elsewhere in Britain.
“Workers are outraged at the failure of the DHSSPS (Department of Health, Social Service and Public Safety) to deliver on a fair and equitable pay rise,” said Unite national officer Kevin McAdam.
The NIAS reassured the public that emergency calls would still be answered, but warned that industrial action would slow response times.
NIAS communications officer John McPoland was quick to accuse unions of jeopardising patient care.
“The impact of the ongoing action is significant, with patients having to wait longer than would normally be the case,” he said.“
Staff on duty are also feeling the impact as they are asked to manage the situation as part of a team response with their colleagues in control and in management.
“Ambulance control staff have been dynamically managing the situation to position crews in areas where they are most likely to be needed in an effort to maintain as high a level of service as possible.”
The strike was originally called for March, but had to be suspended when NIAS management declared a “major incident,” under which staff were compelled to report for work.
A DHSSPS spokeswoman claimed that unions had refused to negotiate with the department on its proposals for a pay deal, adding that no decisions on pay had yet been made.
“Agreement has been reached in England for 2015-16 at no extra cost to the taxpayer, with some staff having pay frozen and missing out on increments. The department’s door will always be open for discussions,” she said.