Monday 11 December 2017

Hospital strikes loom after talks on nursing staff crisis collapse

President of the Irish Medical Organisation John Duddy. Photo: Tony Gavin
President of the Irish Medical Organisation John Duddy. Photo: Tony Gavin

Anne-Marie Walsh and Eilish O'Regan

Strike action looms at hospitals across the country after the collapse of talks on the recruitment and retention of nurses.

The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) has warned HSE management that proposals it tabled to deal with the crisis would have to be "radically improved" within 24 hours to form the basis for further talks.

The INMO's mandate for industrial action provides for a series of one-day strikes and a continuous work-to-rule which would mean no redeployment from one ward to another, no working of additional hours and the introduction of a ban on overtime. Relations are at a low point after the union accused management of a "total row-back" on a previous commitment for a funded workforce plan for this year, which would have involved the recruitment of 1,200 nurses.

The management proposal document, seen by the Irish Independent, says that a 'Bring Them Home' campaign should be extended beyond the UK, with a second €1,500 allowance given after a period of 18 months. It says a career break option will be available for new graduates after a year of service.

But the impasse means that the INMO executive council will meet tomorrow to consider industrial action.

The union has accused management of refusing to allow directors of nursing and midwifery to fill all posts that become vacant this year or guarantee that sufficient funds would be available to allow all Irish-trained nurses and midwives who graduate to get jobs.

The union said it also refused to guarantee that maternity leave vacancies would be filled.

"The net effect of this is that the crisis remains and will continue to destabilise the delivery of safe patient care," it said in a statement.

Sources said unions had sought a number of measures to attract and retain staff, including the establishment of an income continuance plan and reinstatement of allowances that had been axed.

It had been speculated that the proposals tabled by unions to attract nurses would have surpassed the €50m cost of a recent pay package for gardaí. However, the deputy general secretary of the INMO David Hughes denied it would be on that scale.

The INMO is due to discuss staffing shortages at a meeting with the Public Services committee today.

Health Minister Simon Harris said: "I would really just call on everybody to absolutely do everything that they possibly can, on all sides, to make sure that there isn't a disruption to our health services."

Meanwhile, it has also emerged that hospital doctors may join the clamour for a special deal in recognition of a recruitment crisis among their ranks.

President of the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) John Duddy revealed it would seek an extra increase on top of wage rises sought by most unions at new talks on a successor to the Lansdowne Road Agreement.

The IMO is also seeking a reversal of a 30pc cut in newly recruited consultants' salaries and pay rises of 5pc to 19pc for junior doctors. Mr Duddy said Ireland was heavily reliant on junior doctors from abroad because so many home-grown graduates emigrate.

A deluge of claims would not bode well for the Government, which is already struggling to meet the cost of exceptional pay agreements it has reached in the past few months. It had budgeted for a €290m bill to fund pay rises under the terms of the Lansdowne Road Agreement this year, but agreed to pay €50m to halt garda strikes in November. It must now find another €120m after public sector unions demanded the same terms.

Elsewhere, Siptu members in Dublin Fire Brigade will, within two weeks, complete a ballot for strike action, saying they require an additional four ambulances.

Irish Independent

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