Tuesday 26 March 2019

Editorial: 'Conciliation the best path to resolve nurses' dispute'

'Expecting nurses to accept the status quo - a group which feels perennially at the back of the queue when it comes to pay and conditions, but always at the front line when it comes to being a first responder - may not be within the gift of the union' (stock photo)
'Expecting nurses to accept the status quo - a group which feels perennially at the back of the queue when it comes to pay and conditions, but always at the front line when it comes to being a first responder - may not be within the gift of the union' (stock photo)
Editorial

Editorial

In industrial relations, as in other aspects of life, no one can know their own worth until it is reflected back to them through some recognition from another.

The nurses' strike is case in point. Those who keep the wards running in the darkest hours when we are at our weakest find themselves far from the top of the rewards pyramid, yet their services are beyond value.

Has society taken a willingness to serve and always give that bit more, without any gain other than the benefit to the patient, for granted?

Almost definitely. It's no accident that for the first time, a generation of nurses has chosen to leave their country - despite expensive investment in their training - to work overseas.

So if they have a deep sense of grievance and feel left behind by a notional tide that has lifted all boats, there can be no great surprise.

For all that, every protest must be bounded by reason and respect for the rights of all concerned.

Over the last two weeks, three days of action were called to force an indifferent public, and a disinterested Government, to pay attention to their demands. They had trumpeted the need for recruitment and retention within their ranks for years - no one listened. Remuneration was also a key issue, as was what they regarded as a lack of respect for their qualifications, compared with other colleagues within the health services, who worked shorter hours for better salaries.

The public, by now, is in step with them for most if not all of this.

They made a forceful argument when more than 40,000 marched through the capital.

But at the time of writing, some 90,000 patients will have been affected by cancellations of one sort or another as a result of the three stoppages.

More days of strike action or the threat of such action would have multiplied risk to an unacceptable level. Consecutive days of concerted action would have massively escalated the danger levels.

Holding patients hostage in such a scenario indefinitely would always have been a step too far.

The Labour Court has the resources and the expertise to facilitate the talks to bridge a gap which has opened up over decades. It must be given the chance.

Granting immediate across-the-board pay rises is not within the gift of the Government.

Expecting nurses to accept the status quo - a group which feels perennially at the back of the queue when it comes to pay and conditions, but always at the front line when it comes to being a first responder - may not be within the gift of the union.

Yet use of force or coercion on either side serves no one.

If talks need space and time, then so be it. Creating a common path of least resistance is vital, but this can best be achieved through conciliation. Expectations need to be grounded in reality, with manageable timeframes.

As George Soros said: "It is easier to put existing resources to better use than to develop resources where they do not exist."

Irish Independent

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