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Government voting against motion to pay student nurses described as 'betrayal'

The Solidarity-People Before Profit (PBP) motion was defeated by 77 votes to 72.

THE GOVERNMENT VOTING against a motion to pay student nurses and midwives has been described as “cold-hearted” and a “betrayal” that won’t be forgotten.

The Solidarity-People Before Profit (PBP) motion was defeated by 77 votes to 72.

Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party all voted against the motion, while opposition parties and groups supported it.

The motion called for the immediate reinstatement of the payment of student nurses and midwives who are in placements during the Covid-19 pandemic, among other measures.

Screenshot 2020-12-03 at 08.50.25 Source: Oireachtas.ie

A similar motion was defeated in a vote earlier this year.

People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett said the coalition voting against the motion was “cold-hearted and a detriment to the integrity of public health in this country, especially in the light of Covid-19″.

“Politicians of all persuasions in the Dáil clapped and saluted these frontline workers who have been battling this crisis and keeping us all safe, and yet when the rubber hits the road, they would deny these workers a very basic scheme of remuneration and respect.

“The student nurses stood up when they were called on to protect the people of this country and now the government slaps them down.”

Speaking earlier, ahead of the vote in the Dáil, Boyd Barrett was among those to criticise the fact Health Minister Stephen Donnelly was not present during the debate.

“I do not say it lightly, but the absence of the Minister for Health, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, from the Chamber during a debate about thousands of student nurses and midwives who have protected us all, put themselves in harm’s way and fought on the front line during this pandemic is nothing short of an insult.”

People Before Profit TD Bríd Smith yesterday said she looked back at the coverage of the strike last year by the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation, and saw an “abundance of photographs of smiling Fianna Fáil and Green Party candidates pledging their support to the nurses’ cause”.

“This betrayal of the next generation will not be forgotten or forgiven by these workers or their families.”

Government response

A review of student nurses’ allowance is under way and will be available in September 2021, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar told the Dáil.

Varadkar was pressed on the issue during Leaders’ Questions by Sinn Fein’s Pearse Doherty, who said those working on the front line and in Covid wards deserved to be paid.

The Tánaiste responded: “The matter is being considered. A full review of student allowances is under way. It should be ready in September 2021.”

Doherty said student nurses and midwives “have stepped up and stepped into the breach” and provided excellent care in difficult circumstances.

Student nurses want to be paid when they go to the frontline “and put themselves and their families at risk”. He said the Irish public can’t understand why government voted against pay for student nurses “when they stepped up”.

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly confirmed today that student nurses who had to give up part-time work due to the risks associated with Covid will be eligible for PUP payments. This will be backdated to the time they left their jobs.

‘Being exploited’

Speaking in the Dáil yesterday, Minister of State at the Department of Health Mary Butler said: “All nursing and midwifery students, from first year to fourth year, have returned to full-time student capacity since the end of September.

“The final year interns will commence their 36-week clinical placements in accordance with the agreed pay and conditions of those placements. These students have agreed learning objectives to ensure that the final stages of learning remain supervised and supported.”

Butler said that while Covid-19 “remains a presence affecting all health services, so much more is known about the virus now than was known at the beginning of its first surge”.

“This is clear in the number of Covid-19-positive patients who currently require acute hospital care. All healthcare workers have access to PPE. While Covid-19 remains a serious threat, the situation now is not as it was in March. This has affected the management and deployment of healthcare workers.”

Butler stated that Covid-19 “has an impact on how we all do our work, but this is particularly true of our student nurses and midwives and all our healthcare workers”. She said “engagement” between health sector management, workers and their representatives “will assist in addressing concerns as they emerge”.

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“I again commend the student nurses and midwives on the role they provided when the pandemic struck the State. The way in which all of us live our lives has changed. The pandemic has shown the importance of supporting the work to protect our student nurses and midwives and their graduate education,” Butler added.

In a statement released in October, the INMO said student nurses and midwives were “being exploited” during the pandemic.

“Students on placements in hospitals across Ireland are facing additional Covid risks and are effectively being asked to work as staff for no pay.

“Many have also faced income loss, as they are no longer able to work part time as care assistants while studying, due to the infection risk of working in a care home while also on placement in a hospital.

“Before their final year internship, most student nurses and midwives get either nothing or an allowance of just €50.79 per week.”

With reporting by Christina Finn

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Órla Ryan

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