A Nurse’s World: ‘I feel I am too poor to get pregnant’

I’ve been offered a job in a private hospital. I’ll probably take it – there’s an extra €1,000 in it

Could I make the sacrifice and stay in the public system where, I believe, I will be of more real value? No.  At €27,000, I don’t have a choice. Illustration: Angelo McGrath/Getty

Could I make the sacrifice and stay in the public system where, I believe, I will be of more real value? No. At €27,000, I don’t have a choice. Illustration: Angelo McGrath/Getty

 

I am watching the news on TV. But I’m also watching society. I see how he or she who shouts loudest gets listened to. Or, at the very least, becomes the focus of media attention.

Shouting, or elbowing my way to the front of the queue, is and was never my style. I find it undignified. But hey, I’m prepared to adapt.

My family and I can no longer afford to live in Dublin. I am sick of being part of the working poor, of derisive wages. A wage of €13.80 an hour does not cut the mustard in 2017, especially in a city where the average rent is fast approaching €1,500 per month.

Who does the rating? Who decides your wage? And what voice have you in the process?

But this is not a column about wages. It is a column about worth. How do we calculate worth? Is it about a value to society? An ability to generate profit? The ability to create jobs?

Value

What value did, say, John Montague, the late poet, have to society? Who do we ask? Theo Dorgan, Montague’s friend and fellow poet who helped carry his coffin? President Higgins, also a poet, who spoke of Montague’s “great service’’?

Who does the rating? Do we ask the HSE to rate a hospital porter’s salary, or a healthcare assistant’s, or mine, or should we engage an independent body? Who decides your wage? And what voice have you in the process?

Ask the Minister for Health, Simon Harris, who, at €87,258 plus an allowance of €70,282, is worth more than seven times me, how he calculates my worth. Is the figure of €27,211 per annum (qualified staff nurse rate, January 2017) based on my training?

Is my worth calculated by how much pressure I am prepared to take?

Is it based on the fact that in 10 years, I might – if I don’t throw in the towel, or get a job in a hair-restoration clinic – be earning €43,000 as a clinical nurse manager?

Is my worth calculated by how much pressure I am prepared to take? Is it calculated slyly in the knowledge that I won’t walk out, won’t leave the sick and the dying in the lurch?

The Luas drivers (remember, the news footage and news photos showed bunches of men with placards and, in my view, men with placards are harder to ignore than women with same) showed that they were prepared to go all the way, even threatening to disrupt an All-Ireland final.

We have been assigned the role of mammy to Irish society

The gardaí made a minister blink first. But, while there is support for nurses, while there is even widespread acknowledgement that our pay and working conditions are less than ideal, for nurses to engage in a full-on strike is for many people unconscionable. Objectionable. It is – cue phone calls to Joe Duffy – unpatriotic.

Luas drivers are allowed to have a hard neck. Gardaí get to play brinkmanship. Not nurses.

Role of mammy

Why? I think it is because we have been assigned the role of mammy to Irish society – the available, reliable, eternally obliging, long-suffering mammy. But I didn’t train for four years to be a mammy. I have studied too long and too hard and made too many sacrifices.

I am worth a lot more than €27,000, and not just because on that salary I can’t afford to have a life (or bring one into creation).

I am watching the news and it says there are now more people working than last year and the year before.

Yes, there are. But many of them are on family income support because the wages they bring home, wages decided by people with vested interests, wages assessed and implemented by people living on multiples of the decided amount, are not enough.

Some people who were previously unemployed are still being fed by charities.

I need more money. I have been offered a job in a private hospital. I will probably take it; there is an extra €1,000 in it.

Instead of working with people who are dying from, or being cured of, cancer, I will work with people having liposuction

I wanted to work in oncology. I’ve been told I am almost fearless in the face of death, and that this is a rare talent. But I am not prepared to work nights. (Are you?).

Yes, nights are part of the job, but the extra pay is negligible. I don’t want to be a ghost appearing and disappearing in the lives of my partner and kids. (Do you?).

So, instead of working with people who are dying from, or being cured of, cancer, I will work with people having liposuction after eating and drinking too much for too many years. Or with those opting for knee surgery after playing a surfeit of auld-fella rugby for Belvedere, Terenure or Gonzaga.

Public system

Could I make the sacrifice and stay in the public system where, I believe, I will be of more real value? No.

At €27,000, I don’t have a choice. Being part of the working poor is about having less wriggle room, less opportunity.

It is about next month’s rent (notions of home ownership are long gone).

It is about the fuel gauge in the car sitting on empty.

I have looked hard at my wages. I feel I am literally too poor to get pregnant. In any event, the contract offered to me by the private hospital doesn’t grant employer-paid maternity leave until you’ve been there three years.

Welcome to the Republic of Nursing.

The author’s identity is known to The Irish Times.

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