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'Step up to the plate and do the right thing': Bill on student nurses' pay due before Seanad

The government is expected to pass the bill in order to send it “into the ether”.

Labour's Higher and Further Education spokesperson Senator Annie Hoey
Labour's Higher and Further Education spokesperson Senator Annie Hoey

A BILL WHICH would see student nurses and midwives paid the same rate as health care assistants is due to be debated in the Seanad this afternoon. 

However, Cabinet decided during the week that it’s not going to oppose the opposition bill in the hope of sending it “into the ether”.

Labour Senator Annie Hoey said she was disappointed to hear of the government’s “cynical” move to let her private member’s bill pass but “not take any actual action to improve the situation for our student nurses and midwives”. 

“It’s time for parties to put their money where their mouth is and instead of clapping for our student nurses and midwives actually pay them,” said Hoey. 

She argues that student nurses and midwives have been at the forefront of protecting the country throughout the pandemic, “and the very least the government could do is pay them”.

The Student Nurses (Pay) Bill 2020 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.

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.

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.

The Pandemic Placement Grant, which offers students €100 per week, is currently in place but Hoey says it is “an insult” and does not reflect the extreme conditions facing students.

“We had more cases of Covid-19 in the month of January than we did in all of 2020, and our student nurses and midwives worked stoically for free throughout this time,” said Hoey. 

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“Our student nurses and midwives are currently working for free and the Government has the power to change that by supporting and taking action on my Bill.” 

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Adam Daly

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