Are nurses only worth €6.49 an hour?

Students demand better pay for profession

Dozens of Irish student nurses gathered around the Dail today to launch a campaign appealing for better introductory wages in a bid to stem the export of graduates.

Thu, Feb 6, 2014, 15:40

Dozens of Irish student nurses gathered around the Dáil today to launch a campaign appealing for better introductory wages in a bid to stem the export of graduates.

It is just the latest effort to muster support for an improvement in conditions which the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) says has been characterised by a continuing decline in pay rates since 2011.

The Union of Students in Ireland (USI) which organised the protest, argued the declining wages amount to just €6.49 an hour, less than the €8.65 minimum wage, a reality that is driving freshly qualified professionals to emigrate.

The ‘Everyone Loves Nurses’ campaign, bolstered by lapel-pins asking “Am I Worth €6.49?”, attempts to marry society’s dependence on hospital staff with an awareness of the money they are paid for it.

“It’s a disgrace how they under-appreciate nurses for the job they do. They are saying that what we do is the same as working in fast food,” said Claire Gibson, a 20-year-old second year Trinity student from Dublin. “We have all looked into Canada, Australia; everyone in our year has decided it’s going to be emigration.”

According to the USI, graduate nurses earn a starting salary of €43,600 in Canada.

USI president Joe O’Connor said they are calling on the Government to deliver something far less than that, but symbolic of their appreciation for the sector. “Change the starting salary back to €26,000 for newly graduated nurses,” he said, explaining that this has since dropped to just €22,000. “This is a massive problem, not only for the nurses but for the healthcare system itself.”

A protest outside the HSE headquarters in two weeks time is expected to attract about 500 student nurses from the 10 colleges represented today.

Sophie Lacey (20), from Malahide in Dublin, says she is already resigned to moving to Toronto in Canada where her brother lives even though she has two years to go before she qualifies.

“I have no choice. By the time I start work it will probably be €2 an hour,” she said.

“[We feel] completely undermined. We are confident people who are well educated and an education that we have paid €2,500 for a year. It’s physical labour. It’s physically tiring as well as emotionally draining.

“We are being driven out of our country to go to places like Canada and Australia.”

Dean Flanagan, an INMO officer representing students and new graduates, said the union welcomed the USI support and that it was awaiting a response from the HSE to discuss the issue.