Junior doctors guide to strike action in Northern Ireland

Taking industrial action

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

Working out if you can take part

Check your contract

In a pay dispute with the HSC, you need a contract with an HSC employer to be able to take industrial action.

You cannot take industrial action against a non-HSC employer. 

If you have multiple contracts

You cannot take industrial action on a day you are scheduled to work for a non-HSC employer even if you also have an HSC employer.

This is unless you take leave to participate in an action on a day you are scheduled to work for a non-HSC employer. You should check your contract does not prohibit you from doing this first.

It is also possible that a non-HSC employer could change the rota to allow you to take part in industrial action. Make sure you receive permission in writing to do this.

If your HSC employer 'loans' you out

You can take industrial action if you are 'loaned' out. This is as long as you are not impacting any other contract apart from your HSC contract.

Check your role

If you are still wondering whether you can take industrial action, take a look at our guidance below.

If you cannot find the information you need here, contact our advisors to get specific advice.

All eligible junior doctor BMA members who have notified us that they hold a contract with an HSC employer in Northern Ireland (whether solely or in addition to a non-HSC contract), excluding any armed forces trainees, can take part in industrial action.

Clinical fellows

This advice refers to clinical fellows with or without university involvement.

You can take part in industrial action if you are employed under an HSC contract.

You cannot take part in industrial action as a clinical fellow if you are employed by a university. However, you might be able to take part if you also have a separate HSC contract (such as for out of hours work). You would only be able to take action against that contract. You would not be able to take action during your academic time.

Dental trainees

This guidance refers to doctors with a specialty in dentistry or oral and maxillofacial surgery ('dental trainees').

You can strike on the days we have called for strike action if you are a member or a non-member.  This is as long as you are not a member of another union (i.e. you cannot strike if you are a BDA member unless you are also a member of the BMA).

Be mindful, to be able to receive union support when taking industrial action, you need to be a BMA member. If you are not already a member, you can join here

FY1 (Foundation Year 1 doctors)

You can take industrial action. This includes if you are a new foundation year 1 doctor.

GP registrars

You can take industrial action if you have an HSC employer. This includes GPST3 doctors who are employed in a GP practice.

Junior doctors “acting up” as consultants

You can take industrial action if you have an HSC employer.

If you are employed as a locum consultant, you cannot take industrial action.

Locally employed junior doctors

If you are locally employed (e.g. a clinical fellow/senior clinical fellow) you can take industrial action if you have an HSC employer.

Locum junior doctors

You can take industrial action if you are working directly for an HSC employer and have a contract with them either for all or part of your working time. If your full contract of employment is with an agency only, then the agency is the employer, and you cannot take part.  

Medical students

You cannot take industrial action as you do not have a current contract with the HSC.

You may receive offers to work to cover junior doctors during industrial actions. If you do, please refuse, and notify us.

If you have already agreed to an offer of work, you should not break this agreement. You should not seek to cancel it unless there is an explicit provision for giving notice to cancel in sufficient time. The GMC's standards for medical education and training state students must undertake only appropriate tasks in which they are competent and with adequate supervision.

Non-BMA members

Non-members can participate if they are striking among members of the Union that called the strike. So provided BMA members are taking part in the same strike then non-members can also strike.   

Assuming that there will be members of the BMA taking part in the action at the same time as any non-member, Article 143(3)(b) will be engaged, and the action by non-members will not be unofficial action. 

However, to be able to receive union support when taking industrial action, you need to be a BMA member. If you are not already a member, you can join here

Overseas junior doctors

You can take industrial action if you have an HSC employer.

Palliative care junior doctors

You can take part in industrial action if you have an HSC employer.

Remember, if you have multiple contracts, you can only take industrial action against your HSC employer. See our advice above on whether you can take action.

Public health registrars

You can take part in industrial action if you have an HSC employer.

Taking part as an academic trainee

If your main employer is an HSC employer (even with an honorary academic contract)

You can take industrial action. This includes if you have an honorary academic contract as long as that contract does not specify any HSC duties. However, if you feel that your honorary contract may include HSC duties, please contact us.

You will only be to take action in relation to your HSC contract. Your academic responsibilities will continue as normal.

If your main employer is a university and you do not have an honorary HSC contract

You cannot take part in industrial action because we are not in dispute with university employers.

If your main employer is a university and you have an honorary HSC contract

You cannot take industrial action. This is due to concerns that your university contract could require you to undertake work in the HSC. As such, failing to do so would be a breach of your contract.

Taking part: other considerations

If you provide emergency care

You can take industrial action if you have an HSC employer.

Full withdrawal from emergency care settings is included in the strike. While junior doctors are on strike, health trusts will need to arrange emergency cover to ensure patient safety. We will be giving employers enough notice to prepare for this. This is to ensure that patients whose appointments are cancelled know well in advance and to ensure that employers can manage their medical rotas appropriately to ensure emergency care is no different to any other day.

If you are employed by the armed forces

You cannot take industrial action if you are employed solely by the armed forces.

If you are on/going on maternity leave

Cancelling locum shifts

Before cancelling a shift, it is important to double-check what notice period you may be obliged to give the health trust.

If your contract does not specify

You are able to cancel your shifts, but you should give as much notice as possible, which will be facilitated by the fact we will be providing all employers with a minimum of 7 days’ notice of dates of action, so keep an eye out for our announcements of strike dates, and act quickly to notify your health trust of cancellation with as much notice as possible.

If your contract specifies 7 days or less

You are able to cancel your shifts, but you should meet both the contractually stipulated notice period and aim to give as much notice as possible, which will be facilitated by the fact we will be providing all employers with a minimum of 7 days’ notice of dates of action, so keep an eye out for our announcements of strike dates, and act quickly so you can notify your health board/trust of cancellation with as much notice as possible.

If your contract specifies 7 days or more

You will only be able to cancel your shift if we provide sufficient notice of strike action dates that allows you to meet the contractual stipulated notice period for shift cancellation – if you cannot, we advise you to fulfil the shifts you have booked.

Support from the wider profession

Many doctors will want to show their support for junior doctor colleagues who are taking industrial action. The current ballot dates set in Northern Ireland are for junior doctors only. We will be balloting consultant doctors separately in the near future. Further guidance will be provided ahead of any strike dates, for consultants and SAS doctors working during junior doctor industrial action in Northern Ireland.

If you would like to show your support, please donate to our strike fund to support junior doctors as they take industrial action. 

Need help? For questions about any aspect of your working life, our advisers are here to help you. Opening times: 8am - 6pm Monday to Friday (excluding UK bank holidays)