HSE has 500 nurses working on 'yellow pack' deals
Around 500 so-called 'yellow-pack' nurses are now working in the health service, more than a year after the launch of the controversial scheme.
Another 200 of the nurses are going through the recruitment process for the posts, which offer two-year contracts at lower starting pay.
The scheme was launched in January 2013 with the aim of recruiting 1,000 graduate nurses to work mostly in hospitals. They earn pay of €21,741 – which amounts to 85pc of the first point of a band-three salary in the first year, rising to 90pc in the second year.
The scheme sparked a boycott by nurses' unions for the first half of last year when it was introduced, and only nine nurses had taken up work in hospitals under its terms by July.
Originally, it offered graduate nurses a two-year contract on annual pay of €21,741 for the entire duration of the contract, with potential to earn another €4,000 in premium pay.
The terms were improved under the Haddington Road agreement and the nursing unions lifted their opposition to the scheme.
It is seen as an alternative for nurses who do not want to go abroad to work – currently the only option for most graduates.
The HSE also secured agreement to extend it to other grades of worker in the health service. It will allow the HSE to fill gaps in services without having to pay full pay rates or add to the permanent workforce.
Another 60 nurses were assigned locations in various hospitals and a number of these have since taken up duty.
Separately, Health Minister James Reilly said he has no plans to revise the hourly pay for undergraduate nurses on placement, despite recent demonstrations.
"The level of pay for this undergraduate placement, split into three 12-week periods, is in accordance with the relevant provisions of the National Minimum Wage Act," he said in reply to Sinn Fein TD Caoimhghin O Caolain.
"Fourth-year undergraduate student nurses undertake a 36-week rostered placement as a key part of their degree programme. When doing so, they are not qualified nurses and require supervision.
"Higher scales have been sanctioned for mental health student nurses undertaking the placement, maintaining previous relativities."
For a student in mental health nursing, the pay ranges from €6.64 to €7.97 per hour, compared to €6.49 to €7.79 per hour for other fourth-years.