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'We've been brought to this': Nurses and midwives to announce strike action dates

“The last thing the health service needs is a strike,” Health Minister Simon Harris said yesterday.

Image: Shutterstock/hxdbzxy

THE IRISH NURSES and Midwives Organisation (INMO) will announce dates for strike action of its members at 3.30pm this afternoon.

A vote held in December saw 95% of INMO nurses and midwives ballot to go on strike. The strikes would involve INMO members withdrawing their labour for 24-hour periods over low wages as well as recruitment and retention issues.

Under the current public sector pay deal, student nurses and midwives earn €14,243 for a 36-week rostered placement; staff nurses earn €29,056 in the first three months, and €31,110 in the latter nine months of their first year; and a senior staff nurse earns €47,898 a year.

The last pay agreement contained wage increases of 6.4% to 7.2% over 2018-2020. 

“This would deliver an average of an additional €3,000 over the coming years starting in March next year to over 60,000 post-2011 new entrants, including 10,000 nurses,” Harris told the Dáil in December, in response to questions from People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett.

Catherine O’Connor, a nurse at The Mater Hospital, would be earning €32,000 a year if she was working full-time. But she’s working part-time in order to retrain by obtaining a Higher Diploma in Psychology.

“I thought about what aspect of the job I like, and that’s talking to patients. You don’t get the time to talk to patients anymore, there’s very little of the holistic side, you’ve so many patients to see and there aren’t enough nurses.”

She says that when a nurse is on the wards, they’d see 6-10 patients in a 13-hour shift.

Work conditions are at the centre of why I’m leaving, and pay is the main solution to solve it. We need more nurses – it’s a snowball effect: the better pay there is, the more nurses we recruit. The more nurses we have, the better conditions there will be.
It’s frustrating that there are so many talented nurses that are spread so thinly, and it’s frustrating for patients, too. For me, this strike issue is about the patients. Every single person will be a patient at some point in their life, and they deserve to be treated with dignity.

When asked about the threat of strike action at an event yesterday, Simon Harris said “the last thing the health service needs is a strike” and “no dispute has ever been resolved without engagement”.

“I also don’t believe our nurses want to see strike action,” he told reporters.

I would make the point though that engagement has to be cognisant of the fact that we do have a public sector pay agreement, the union has signed up to the public sector pay agreement and obviously we can’t just pick and choose the bits of the public sector pay agreement that we like.

“Signing up to the agreement comes with benefits, but it also comes with obligations. I look forward to further engagement with the INMO in the coming days and I really hope everyone could put their shoulder to the wheel and work to avert this.”

“There’s no nurse in the country who wants to strike,” Catherine says. “But we’ve been brought to this… There just aren’t enough nurses to look after patients properly.”

On the issue of whether teachers and gardaí would want pay increases too, Catherine says that there was provision in the public pay agreement that if the recruitment and retention issue wasn’t resolved, the issue could be re-examined without collapsing the pay deal.

The trade union, which represents over 40,000 nurses and midwives, the majority of whom work in the public healthcare system, will announce the dates at 3.30pm today, after its Executive Council meeting.

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