Junior doctors guide to strike action in Northern Ireland


Location: Northern Ireland
Audience: Junior doctors
Updated: Monday 11 March 2024

We have the legal right to picket

Read more about your legal right to take industrial action and your protections against dismissal.

Be aware of the law

The Code of Practice on Picketing recommends that there should be no more than six people on the picket. 

Registering your interest in taking part in your local picket will allow us to coordinate pickets and ensure everyone has a chance to take part while staying within the guidance. You can also organise other events, such as protests and demonstrations nearby. Avoid being on private property, or blocking the public highway (which includes some pavements) and cooperate fully with any requests from the police to deal with any obstructions.

Any person who decides to cross a picket line must be allowed to do so

Don’t physically attempt to stop a person or vehicle from entering the hospital. If you are on a picket line it is reasonable for you to have conversations with colleagues and members of the public to promote why you are taking industrial action. However, verbal and physical abuse cannot be tolerated on the picket line.

If a doctor is taking part in strike action but needs to cross the picket line to access hospital facilities (for example, prayer facilities) they should be allowed to do so.

Try to communicate with everyone who approaches the picket

You can use leaflets or banners and placards to put forward the BMA’s case. However, if people don’t want to engage, make sure you don’t block their way. Ensure that the picket line is not impacting accessibility for individuals with disabilities.

Create a positive and inclusive atmosphere

A friendly, positive atmosphere encourages people to feel welcome at the picket line. Support members who may feel uncomfortable or unsafe on the picket line. If you or a colleague on the picket line have difficulty standing for long periods of time, speak to your picket supervisor to see if it is possible for chairs to be provided.

Some may only be able to commit a limited amount of time on the picket line as a result of responsibilities such as caring. They should still be welcomed and encouraged to take part in picketing if they would like to do so.

You may only picket your own place of work

If there is no picket taking place at your worksite, you may not officially join another one, even if it is a worksite of the same health board/trust (unless you also work at that worksite). You can however visit any picket lines, and take part in other BMA-wide activities which are not within hospital property on the day.

If you have more than one workplace you can picket any of them or any place from which your work is administered.

For GP registrars working in a practice setting, rather than picketing your practice workplace we would encourage you to join protests outside of local hospitals (not within hospital property) on strike days. This is because our dispute is not with GP practices.

Only join the picket if you are part of the dispute

Medical students, other doctors or hospital staff who are not included in the dispute should not join or form any part of an official picket line. When not on duty, they can visit the picket to provide logistical support (like bringing food and hot drinks). They can also show their support promoting the strike on social media or by taking part in demos / protests near to picket sites.

While we are grateful for the support of other organisations, picket lines should be reserved for junior doctors. If another or union joins a picket with their own banners or placards they should be asked to remove them. However, their support at a demonstration can be welcomed.

What is the difference between a picket line and supporters visiting a picket?

Others may attend the picket line to demonstrate support and solidarity with the striking workers. However, they will not be considered an official picket. Instead, they are considered picket visitors and supporters and should not approach junior doctors looking to cross the picket and attend work; only the official and identifiable picket workers should be undertaking this role.

We will appoint a picket supervisor

This will be an official or member who is familiar with the Code of Practice on Picketing. They will supervise each picket line. The picket supervisor will wear something which readily identifies them as such. They will also carry a letter of authorisation from the union to be shown to employers by request.

Trade union officials can join picket lines

The Code of Practice on Picketing states: ‘The law provides that it is lawful for a trade union official to picket at any place of work provided that: (i) he is accompanying members of his trade union who are picketing lawfully at or near their own place of work; and (ii) he personally represents those members.’

Armed forces colleagues can be ordered to cross picket lines

The law does not permit our armed forces colleagues to take part in industrial action but their support for services during the industrial action is welcome.