Tuesday 23 July 2019

Anne-Marie Walsh: 'Health service nightmare over but other public-sector workers will be watching keenly'


Mr Fix-it: Kevin Foley helped find a way out of this strike chaos. Picture: Frank McGrath
Mr Fix-it: Kevin Foley helped find a way out of this strike chaos. Picture: Frank McGrath

Anne-Marie Walsh

The Labour Court's Mr Fix-it Kevin Foley has found a way out of a health service nightmare that appears to get everybody off the hook.

It sounds like it's got everything that Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe and Health Minister Simon Harris could ask for. The spectre of three days of strike with potentially nightmarish consequences is gone and the proposals on the table are not supposed to breach the current public service pay deal. So far, the cost has not been mentioned.

When asked about the financial implications, a spokesperson for the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform would not specify but said the minister would brief Cabinet on them today. It sounds great and is a long way from where the Government was last week.

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But none of this means they're all going to live happily ever after. There is still the prickly issue of the potential for knock-on claims.

Mr Foley had barely signed off on his recommendation yesterday when a common question was already being posed by other public servants: "What did the nurses get?"

The nursing unions may argue that many of the issues addressed are specific to their members. But that did not stop the rest of the public service trying to get the same thing when gardaí got a €50m deal two years ago. So what exactly are the nurses being offered that will be most closely watched by the other 290,000-plus State employees?

First, an enhanced 'nurse practice' salary scale. It appears some of the incremental points on this scale are about €2,000 higher than the existing staff nurses' scale. The court proposal says a new nursing contract should be finalised within three weeks. Staff nurses "with certain qualifications" will be offered the opportunity to move to the new salary scale from March 1.

Revised 'new entrant' proposals will be watched closely by teachers in particular, who are demanding improvements on this existing deal to address two-tier pay.

The court says that nurses will skip point two on their incremental pay scales. Other public servants are already due to jump past point four and eight on their scales to make up for being on lower pay since 2011.

Public sector union Fórsa says it will "study the detail" and "any implications it may have for other civil and public service grades". It is certainly a case of watch this space.

Irish Independent

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