Junior doctors guide to strike action in Northern Ireland

Strike advice for junior doctors

Location: Northern Ireland
Audience: Junior doctors
Updated: Monday 19 February 2024

Pay

If you are due to be on shift and take industrial action

You will not get paid. We encourage you to begin planning ahead for the period of industrial action and to begin to save.

If you are on annual leave or zero hours

Your employer must not deduct your pay. This is even if you partake in picketing. You should not be called in.

If you are due to go on maternity leave

Read our section on strike action and maternity pay.

If you cannot afford to lose pay

We encourage you to begin planning ahead for the likelihood of industrial action and to begin to save.

Successful industrial action may require repeated or long periods of strike action. By planning ahead and saving, you can help to minimise the negative impact of losing pay. This will enable you to take part in industrial action in a way that is sustainable for you. We have a strike fund that makes payments to doctors who would not otherwise be able to afford to participate in industrial action due to loss of pay. You can read more information about the strike fund including who can access the fund here.

Defending pay

We know that it is hard to lose income. Any day you strike you will lose pay. If we do not fight to defend our pay now, we could stand to lose a lot more in the future.

We have no alternative. We need to send a message that we will defend our pay and the future of the profession. If you feel that you are unable to take part in industrial action as a consequence of financial issues, we encourage you to make the best decision for yourself and your family.

We have a strike fund that makes payments to doctors who would not otherwise be able to afford to participate in industrial action due to loss of pay. You can read more information about the strike fund including who can access the fund here.

Employment rights

As your union, we can support members who may run into difficulties due to taking action. We are not able to support any non-members who decide to take industrial action.

What to say to your employer

Once a strike date is announced we know that trusts will begin to organise shadow rotas in anticipation of strike days. If you are asked by your employer in advance or on a strike day, please note:

  • You are not legally required to respond to such questions and to do so would undermine any action we do take
  • You may respond by saying that we have advised you that you are not obliged to answer

If your employer is insisting that you provide them with this information, please contact us for support.

However, if you are asked after you return to work you should respond truthfully.

What the GMC says

The GMC emphasises your legal entitlement to take industrial action. It is important you are clear on the GMC guidance on the duties of a doctor. This guidance is not removed or modified by taking industrial action.

Take reasonable steps to hand over patients

The guidance in Good Medical Practice states the doctor has a duty of care to ensure the safety of patients to whom they are delivering care. This duty extends to ensuring that reasonable steps are taken to achieve the safe hand over of patients under their care. See ‘Good Medical Practice’ paragraph 44.

Your duty of care does not extend to patients no longer in your care

A doctor who has properly handed over care of his or her patients cannot be said to be under a professional obligation enforceable by the GMC. The GMC acknowledges that during industrial action doctors’ employers will have a vital role in planning and preparing for how patients will be cared for. See ‘Good Medical Practice’ paragraph 14.

Dealing with pressure to return to work

We will support any of our junior doctor members who is pressured to return to work outside of the escalation procedure. If you believe you are being pressured to go back to work, you should contact us as soon as possible.

It is important that you keep a note of what happened, including retaining emails.

If your employer takes action against you

The right to take industrial action is protected by NI employment law.

In cases where an employer takes action against a member as a result of his or her involvement in industrial action, we would provide support under the terms of the 'My BMA' contract of membership. Please refer to this for more details.

Leave

Refusal of leave

Employers should not refuse your leave due to strike action.

It is in the interest of trusts to safeguard the health and wellbeing of their staff and ensure the continued safety of patients by allowing junior doctors to take their full annual leave. This is also in the best interests of the junior doctors themselves.

Both employers and junior doctors as employees must make every effort to work together to ensure that junior doctors are able to take the full annual leave entitlement. Rejecting out of hand requests to take annual leave fundamentally undermines this process. Where possible, the employer should, respond positively to all leave requests and should normally agree reasonable requests.

Leave cancellation

Employers will have advance notice of strike days and should make arrangements which do not involve cancelling annual leave to ensure continuation of services to patients. As such, it should not be necessary for employers to try to cancel your leave. Seeking to cancel annual leave should be a last resort only after all other options have been considered and exhausted. If your employer seeks to cancel pre-booked leave, you should get in touch with BMA advisers directly on 0300 123 1233.

Time out of Training (TOOT)

  • For those in Foundation Year 1 and 2, if you take more than 20 days out of training (when you would normally be at work), this may lead to a review of overall performance and achievement of curricular outcomes but does not mean an automatic extension to training. Provided that outcomes are being met, there would be no justification to extend training as a result of taking industrial action.
  • For those in Core/Speciality training, if you take more than 14 days out of training (when you would normally be at work), this may lead to a review of overall performance and achievement of curricular outcomes. Provided that outcomes are being met, there would be no justification to extend core training programme end dates, or CCT dates, as a result of taking industrial action.

FY1s generally must complete 12 months of training (full time equivalent) before being eligible for a Certificate of Experience and to apply for full GMC registration. The GMC supports foundation school directors implementing this requirement flexibly to reflect (including in any reviews) the nature and history of absence, the timing and the effect of the absence on achieving the necessary outcomes. The focus should be on meeting the outcomes and the competence required by FY1 doctors.

Read our full guidance.

Study leave

We recognise the importance of study leave for junior doctors. As such, we recommend rescheduling your study time to a period when it is not impacted by industrial action and when you can better use it as it is meant to be used.

Additional advice

We will support members if an employer takes action against them as a result of their involvement in industrial action.

Find out more about the terms of this support by reading your contract of membership in the 'My BMA' section.

Wellbeing advice

We recognise the impact engaging in industrial action can have you on your wellbeing. If you require any support, please contact our wellbeing and support services.