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Column: Young nurses are right to boycott the new graduate scheme

Young nurses are right to boycott the new nursing graduate scheme, which would further cut pay for new graduates entering the Health Services, writes Patrick Nulty TD.

Patrick Nulty

THE CAMPAIGN BY nursing unions to boycott the proposed nurse graduate scheme has been a success to date: the HSE confirmed last week that just 30 applications were received for the posts.

This is a successful show of solidarity, given the huge pressures of emigration and unemployment.

The stakes are high. At issue is the basic protection of nurses – the new graduate scheme would result in new nurses hired for €22,000 a year (80 per cent of the current pay scale), temporary contracts, and a further downgrade of pay, terms and conditions for those working in nursing. If this scheme goes ahead, 1,000 experienced nurses/midwives will be let go to make way for the new graduates on 80 per cent of the current rate of pay, according to the Irish Nurses and Midwives organisation (INMO).

The eventual outcome of this campaign may have ramifications for other workers in the Health Service. Health Minister James Reilly told the Sunday Business Post at the weekend that he is considering plans to extend new graduate schemes to other sections of health workers.

‘Not in the interests of society at large’

So, if the nurses succeed in their campaign, they will have struck a blow not just for themselves, but other young workers faced with inferior pay, terms and conditions compared with colleagues doing the same job alongside them.

A further reason to support the nurses is that facts indicate that cutting pay and the numbers employed in the public sector is not in the interests of society at large. Simply put, the cuts in public sector pay or numbers do not equal savings: public sector cuts are deflationary, taking employment, consumer spending and growth out of the economy.

Even within the confines of the cost containment argument, we have good reason to be sceptical of the claims that the new graduate scheme is an efficient way of making savings. The INMO have put the following facts into the debate:

  • The conversion of currently employed agency staff into direct employment would save the HSE up to €23 million. The HSE currently spends €87 million per annum on agency nursing, paying VAT at 21 per cent and the agency fee of 5.5 per cent per annum, which accounts for 26.5 per cent of the total spend.
  • If the HSE were to replace 75 per cent of agency nursing hours with direct employment, they would save € 17.25 million. This is €7.25 million more than the figure of €10 million which the HSE say will be saved by the nurse graduate scheme.

Driving down of wages in the public sector

It appears likely that the intention of the scheme is to contribute to the driving down of wages in the public sector, making it easier for a similar devaluation in the private sector. Given the increased involvement of private providers in the Health Services and the Ministers seemingly ideological bias for privatised models, we should be wary of the claims that this scheme is good for the patients using public health services.

Today, I will be chairing a meeting of group of young nurses in Leinster House, who outlined their opposition to the scheme. Every TD and Senator has been invited. It is an opportunity for public representatives to respond positively to a request of support for a campaign, which if successful, will not only benefit nurses, but potentially other health workers and the public at large.

Patrick Nulty is a TD for Dublin West.

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