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Saturday 23 February 2019

Simon Harris says financial penalties against striking nurses will be considered

Health Minister Simon Harris
Health Minister Simon Harris

Anne-Marie Walsh

Health Minister Simon Harris has said that financial penalties against nurses will be considered in the coming days and weeks.

However, he said he does not think the Government should be “in that space” on the first day of a series of six strikes by 40,000 nurses.

The Government has the power to freeze nurses’ annual incremental pay increases and halt wage hikes that are already due for nine months under legislation.

These penalties apply to state workers who are found to be in breach of the current public sector pay deal.

It rules out industrial action or cost increasing claims up to 2020.

Mr Harris said that the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform will be responsible for making a decision on applying the sanctions.

“I don’t think the Government should be in that space today,” he said

“The Government isn’t in that space today. The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform will legally consider that in the coming days and weeks but the priority for government is to try and engage within the confines of the Public Service Stability Agreement.”

He said the agreement is clear that you cannot have cost rising claims.

Mr Harris said the nurses’ demand for a 12pc pay rise that would cost €300m is a cost increasing claim and would trigger knock on claims.

“The Public Service Stability Agreement is clear,” he said. “You cannot lodge a cost rising claim during the agreement and derive the benefits.”

He said today’s industrial action is “extraordinarily regrettable” and causing significant difficulty for many thousands of patients right across the country.

Mr Harris said he will meet HSE officials later today to discuss contingency plans and the impact on patients in emergency situations.

“I know this is a decision that our nurses and midwives did not take lightly,” he said.

“I very much appreciate that fact as does the Government and I also appreciate the work that our nurses and our midwives do.”

However, he said the two stark realities facing the Government is the existing pay deal that was backed by all public servants and the prospect of a no-deal Brexit.

“The Government will keep its side of the agreement and the Government expects unions to keep their side of it,” he said.

“If we were to do anything other than that, I’d be back standing in this spot next week, or the week after, or the weeks after or indeed any of my other government colleagues, answering questions as to why we haven’t allowed pay rises for other equally hardworking public servants.”

He said we had all seen in the House of Commons last night that a no deal Brexit is a very real and daunting risk for our country and the EU.

Mr Harris said the idea that weeks out from Brexit any Government would undermine the pay deal would be “grossing irresponsible”.

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