Monday 22 July 2019

Fianna Fáil demand Government urgently engage with nurses over threatened strike

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Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Fianna Fáil has demanded urgent government engagemet with nurses who have threatened strike action later this month.

The party also want an expert group chaired by a judge to assess the dispute.

The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) has given notice of a 24-hour strike on January 30 amid a row over pay and conditions.

Psychiatric Nurses Association of Ireland (PNA) has also warned of industrial action.

The Dáil will today debate a Fianna Fáil motion to engage with the INMO and the PNA to resolve the dispute.

The party is calling on the government to commission an independent judge-led review of the nursing and midwifery professions which will examine remuneration, contracts and allowances.

The aim of the review would be to address that Fianna Fáil say is “chronic recruitment and retention issues.”

Health spokesman Stephen Donnelly said: “We are facing into many weeks of discontent. The INMO will hold the first of six nationwide 24-hour strikes on January 30, while the PNA is planning a three-day stoppage from February 12.”

He said there must be urgency placed on engagement between the government and these organisations.

He added: “We need to bear in mind the changing nature of the nursing and midwifery professions in recent years and the ever increasing demands of their jobs given the country’s demographic needs.

“We believe these issues and their overall grievances should be independently assessed by an expert group chaired by a Judge. This expert group would examine the extra specialities and extended duties that have evolved in the nursing and midwifery profession as well as remuneration, contracts and allowances.”

Mr Donnelly argued that the INMO are “asking a very reasonable question”.

He added: “They’re saying they are the lowest paid degree level graduates in our healthcare system.

“They point to allied health professionals like physio-therapists and say we have degrees, they have degrees and yet we the nurses are paid about €6,000 less. Why is that?

“That’s really the question that they’re posing to government. The threatened strike is around pay parity and the government has to date failed to address that issue.”

It was put to Mr Donnelly that if nurses get a pay rise, other public servants will want one and he was asked if there was any way around that.

He replied: “this is the balance we have to strike. We have to operate within the national pay agreement, the national pay framework.

“What we don’t want is a situation where a potential award for nurses and midwives leads on to multiple awards from other places therefore endangering the opportunity for nurses and midwives in the first instance.”

He said this is why Fianna Fáil want an independent commission led by a judge to to look at pay, conditions, allowances, staffing and career progression.

Sinn Féin, Labour and the Social Democrats have tabled an amendment to the Fianna Fáil motion because they believe it needs to be strengthened.

Sinn Féin health spokesperson Louise O’Reilly said they don’t disagree on the need for a Commission but that they believe it should have a six-week time-frame to deliver a report.

Labour’s Alan Kelly said he believed Fianna Fáil’s motion isn’t strong enough and won’t have the desired impact as there’s “no time-frame” and it’s “not dealing with pay”.

He said: “Today not just debate a motion that is laudable but actually put forward a motion that’s amended that has some teeth and will actually push the government into actually doing something.”

Mr Kelly said there is concern that pay rises for nurses would lead to claims elsewhere in the public sector.

But he also pointed to working conditions for nurses which he argued are “unacceptable”.

And he said: “There is concern in relation to an escalation of other pay claims but specifically and this is why it’s so important that we look at this in an isolated way.

“Specifically within the pay agreement there is recognition that the whole issue of recruitment and retention has too be dealt with and there is in that agreement conditionality based on that.

“That hasn’t been met and because that conditionality hasn’t been met all the nurses have left after their ballot which we have to recognise is the withdrawal of their labour.

“What we’re putting forward now is a mechanism while the pay agreement is in place to leverage that conditionality, use it in order to deal with this issue.”

Earlier Fine Gael TD Kate O’Connell accused Fianna Fáil’s Stephen Donelly of “speaking out of both sides of his mouth" and contradicting himself in remarks on entry level nurses,

She said that last weekend he told RTÉ that nurses are the lowest paid graduate profession in our healthcare profession.

Ms O’Connell quoted an Oireachtas committee meeting from last July where he said new entrant nurses are “very well paid” compared to private sector workers and Irish nurses are among “the best paid in the world”.

Mr Donnelly said the sections of his committee contribution referred to by Ms O’Connell didn’t reflect his overall remarks and accused Fine Gael of “selectively” quoting him.

He said: “What I said was if you were looking in from the outside and you did an international comparison, the data is what it is.

“And one could be forgiven from concluding that there may not be a problem but in fact there is a problem and something needs to be done.

“So my conclusion back in July was that there was a problem with recruitment and retention.”

He said that a Public Service Stability Agreement report published last October compares Irish graduate nursing salaries with English-speaking countries that seek to hire Irish nurses.

“What it shows is that for Canada, Australia and the US the starting salary in Ireland is significantly lower than it is in all of those countries.

“So what’s happening? Our nurses are graduating. Some of them are working in hospitals or community settings in Ireland.

“They’re getting phone calls from their friends saying ‘I’m in Boston, I’m in Sydney, I’m in Ontario. I’m getting paid a lot more money and by the way it’s a lot cheaper to live here – why don’t you come over?’”

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