35,000 days lost to strikes in six months as hospitals left crippled by walkouts

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Anne-Marie Walsh

More than 35,100 working days were lost due to strikes - mainly by nurses and hospital support staff - in the first half of this year.

New official figures reveal that 34,693 days were lost as a result of disputes in the "human health and social work" sector between January and June.

The absences in the health service made up most of the total 35,108 days lost due to industrial disputes across all sectors of the economy.

According to the Central Statistics Office, the human health and social work activities sector accounted for almost 99pc of days lost between April and June.

A spokesperson would not say which employers were involved in the disputes due to GDPR (general data protection regulation) issues.

However, the two biggest disputes were rows between public sector workers in health and the Government over pay.

The health service was almost crippled by the industrial action with the nurses' stoppages leading to the cancellation of some cancer and cardiac operations.

Up to 40,000 nurses went on strike after demanding pay rises due to alleged recruitment and retention issues earlier this year.

They eventually suspended industrial action after being offered an "enhanced" pay scale at a cost of over €34m.

This was followed by a 24-hour strike by hospital support staff including porters, chefs and cleaners in June. They are balloting on a deal estimated to cost €16m.

Nurses were not paid during their strikes, unless they provided emergency cover.

The deputy general secretary of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation, David Hughes, said it was not a coincidence that so many strike days took place in the health service over the past year.

"The frontline service is under severe pressure," he said. "No worker takes the decision to go on strike lightly, least of all those in the health sector, but the understaffing and overcrowding have made conditions unbearable.

"If the Government wants to avoid industrial action in future, it has to put its house in order.

"That means building capacity in the health service and valuing staff properly."

Isme chief executive Neil McDonnell said unless the union movement "gets a grip", there could be another fiscal crash.

"The Government needs a plan to manage expectations in the public sector by going down the route of a standing body like the UK pay review rather than ad-hoc pay commissions. Otherwise the State will be constantly under threat," he said.