A THOUSAND student nurses demanded to know whether their work was worth less than the minimum wage in a protest on pay.
Student nurses, who earn €6.49 an hour and work up to three part-time jobs to sustain themselves, gathered at Dr Steevens' Hospital in Dublin to demand better wages and working conditions.
"I'm proud to be Irish, I want to work in Irish hospitals, but the way were being treated I'm looking forward to working in the NHS at this stage," said Simon O'Sullivan (28), a student nurse at NUI Galway.
Student nurses currently work up to 40 hour weeks while on placement earning €6.49 an hour, and when they finish their degree can enter a graduate scheme where they'll earn €22,000 for their first year.
"About 20 hours a week in a pub is more than I'll get paid for 40 hours a week next year," explained Laura Martin (21), a third-year nursing student in UCD.
She currently works more than 30 hours a week in a bar to pay her bills.
"We're working dangerous hours and at one point I did 10 weeks in a row without one day off," added Ms Martin.
Sarah Kennedy (20), a UCD student also, feels that she has no option but to emigrate or seek work in another field after she graduates.
"The only thing for us to do is to continue studying and come out of nursing altogether or to go away.
"The pay is far too low at the moment to be working here and staying around," stated the student nurse who also works part-time.
Jane Nicholas, a single mother of two teenagers, is a first-year student in NUI Galway and works seven days a week while she attends college.
"I get up at 6.30am and go to bed at midnight.
"I work at the weekends and come the summer I'll up the hours to as much as I can in order to sustain myself and my family throughout the year ahead," said the mature student from Galway.
"I don't want to earn hundreds a week – I just want a stable wage from a job that I know I'm good at and will be even better when I graduate," she said.
Another Galway student works as a cleaner in the hospital where he has his placement, and is there from 7.30am until 10pm five days a week.
The protest was organised by the Union of Students of Ireland.
President of Trinity's student union, Tom Lenihan, said the Government was "exploiting" student nurses.