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Government accused of 'playing games' over plan to send bill on student nurse pay 'into the ether'

Cabinet is of the view that student nurses are being educated and not working while on placement.

Image: Shutterstock/theskaman306

LABOUR SENATOR ANNIE Hoey has accused the government of “playing games in order to avoid bad headlines” after Cabinet decided yesterday that it’s not going to oppose the latest bill on student nurses’ pay in the hope of sending it “into the ether”. 

Hoey‘s Student Nurses (Pay) Bill 2020, due before the Seanad this Friday, would ensure student nurses and midwives are paid at a minimum at the same rate as healthcare assistants when working in the health service as part of their training.

The government voted down People Before Profit’s bill on the issue back in December and is understood to still be of the view that student nurses are being educated and are not working while on placement.

TheJournal.ie understands that government feels the provisions of the private members’ bill wouldn’t apply as student nurses are not working for remuneration while on placement. 

Asked why the government is not opposing the bill if it disagrees with it, the government press secretary said by not opposing it the private members’ bill “goes into the ether”.

He maintained that the government has “made its position clear” on the matter, stating that the government is still of the view that while on placement student nurses are being educated and are not working.

Private members’ bills are, in short, bills that are put forward by any TD who is not a member of the government. They can also be introduced by Senators. The opposition might successfully make amendments and occasionally (rarely) some private members’ bills might make it through the various stages of debate and committee scrutiny, and into law.

During the initial phase of the pandemic, many student nurses acted as healthcare assistants to assist the sector and were paid for the work they did. However, this arrangement is no longer in place.

First, second and third-year trainee nurses – who are required to work a sufficient number of hours as part of degree courses to become qualified – are not normally paid for their work. Fourth year nurses are paid, but at a reduced rate.

After voting down PBP’s bill in December, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar told the Dáil that a review of student nurses’ allowance is underway and will be available in September 2021. Taoiseach Micheál Martin also described the motion at the time as “simplistic” and designed for social media.

Senator Hoey said she was disappointed but also surprised at how blatant the cabinet’s decision was,  describing the move as a “double whammy” given Cabinet is letting a bill it disagrees with go through “in order to avoid bad headlines”. 

“This is the kinds of stuff that makes people very cynical about politics. When there are people acting in good faith, trying to improve situations for people’s lives, and then this kind of nonsense is going on,” Hoey told TheJournal.ie. 

If we have to speak in the language that the government understands, this is a terrible business proposal for the future of our healthcare system, which is already on its knees.

“It’s very disappointing for the student nurses and midwives who are going to be affected by this. Every day that politics is being played with this is another day that they arrive on our frontline working for free.”

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- With reporting from Christina Finn 

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Adam Daly

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