Thousands of workers in Northern Ireland begin walkout
THOUSANDS of health and education workers have begun a 24-hour strike in Northern Ireland.
The walkout started at midnight and is in protest against frontline budget cuts.
It affects all health workers except doctors, and some school staff.
Unison regional secretary Patricia McKeown said: "The workers are facing some of the worst cuts in their history.
"They have not been well treated or well served by the Government and that is contemptible."
Stormont health minister Edwin Poots has said he was disappointed after staff voted for industrial action, which public service union Unison blamed on frontline cuts.
The education and health departments are competing for funds amid a wider public spending squeeze.
The education budget is facing a shortfall of £300 million over four years, while health is facing cuts of £2.3 billion.
A total of 18pc of Unison members in Northern Ireland voted for today's strike.
Ms McKeown added that emergency cover will be provided in the health service. She said in some areas home care workers are taking strike action for the first time.
"Residential homes for older people and children's homes will operate as part of our critical cover," she said.
Several schools are also expected to be affected, with some closing and picket lines forming at others.
Ms McKeown said: "Strong support is being received from teachers' unions and school principals. They too are now balloting for industrial action. Many schools have circulated letters to parents from Unison which explains the action and urges them to join the campaign against education cuts."