Nurses’ industrial action deferred to allow for ballot on proposals

INMO urging members to accept new proposals ‘for strategic reasons’

Liam Doran, General Secretary, with David Hughes, Deputy General Secretary and Martina Harkin-Kelly, President, at the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation meeting with Executive Council members at their office in Dublin to consider wheather planned industrial action scheduled to commence on Tuesday would go ahead. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill / The Irish Times

Liam Doran, General Secretary, with David Hughes, Deputy General Secretary and Martina Harkin-Kelly, President, at the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation meeting with Executive Council members at their office in Dublin to consider wheather planned industrial action scheduled to commence on Tuesday would go ahead. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill / The Irish Times

 

Planned industrial action by nurses and midwives which was scheduled to commence on Tuesday has been deferred.

The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) is to ballot its members on revised Government proposals for addressing recruitment and retention issues.

More than 35,000 members of the INMO were scheduled to begin a work-to-rule on Tuesday as part of a campaign to improve recruitment and retention in the health service. Work stoppages were also scheduled to follow in the weeks ahead if there was no resolution.

The INMO is to recommend that members’ accept the proposals. It said that if members accepted the Government’s proposals, the union would approach planned discussions on a successor to the Lansdowne Road public service pay accord - which are expected to get underway in May -“ requiring that any new agreement is constructed to ensure that the labour market challenges, facing nursing/midwifery, can, and will, be addressed in a manner which will resolve the recruitment/retention issue in the medium to long term”.

INMO general secretary Liam Doran said the Government had to understand that talking nicely about dealing with recruitment and retention problems in nursing and midwifery and the need to address pay had to translate into definite actions in improving the pay and conditions of nurses and midwives.

He said “that has to start and be part of the successor to the Lansdowne Road agreement when negotiations take place”.

‘Strategic reasons’

Mr Doran said the union was urging members to accept the new proposals “for strategic reasons”, adding that the proposals did represent improvement in terms of staffing number, recruitment practices and retention mechanisms.

He said the union’s decision ensured that its members would receive increases due under the Lansdowne road agreement as well as the protections it afforded those covered by it.

Mr Doran also said it would ensure that the INMO would be at the talks in May when the successor of the Lansdowne Road agreement would be negotiated.

“It quite clearly requires that those talks deliver on the core issue of pay for nurses and midwives.”

“We are saying to our members that there was good work done in this agreement and there is much more to be done. But we should do that through the procedures and we should make sure that any new agreement is capable once and for all of resolving and addressing for the medium and long term the pay issue for nurses and midwives so that we are as competitive as every other jurisdiction in attracting and retaining the number of nurses and midwives that we need to man our growing health service.”

Minister for Health Simon Harris welcomed the deferral of the INMO industrial action and reiterated his commitment to “working to invest in and further improve the Irish health service”.

The Government’s new proposals would see the provision of some additional promotion posts while there is also a commitment by health service management to undertake a review of education and development supports for nurses and midwives in consultation with the professions and trade unions “with a view to prioritising education initiatives in 2018”.

However, the Government has rejected proposals by nurses that they should have one hour per week of work time for continuous professional development.

The revised management proposal document says that such a demand “has very significant cost implications and wider policy implications and cannot therefore be conceded”.

Meal breaks

The Government’s revised proposals also rule out the introduction of payment for missed meal breaks for nurses and midwives.

“The demand has very significant cost and wider policy implications and cannot therefore be conceded,” it said.

“The management position is that meal breaks must be provided. In order to address management systems issues where they arise, a data gathering process is currently underway and will be completed by end April, 2017.

“Management will put measures in place to ensure issues identified in this exercise are addressed with a view to such measures being decided by the end of May 2017.”

Health service management had previously estimated that paying nurses for missed meal breaks would add €83 million to the pay bill in a full year while granting one hour a week for continuous professional development would cost €48 million a year.

Nurses have disputed these assessments.

Talks between health service management and nurses’ unions went on until after 4 am on Saturday in an attempt to avert industrial action.

The Government had previously offered to recruit an additional 1,200 nurses this year under a funded workforce plan and to grant greater autonomy to nursing managers to take on staff.

The executive council of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation is due to meet on Saturday afternoon to consider the revised management proposals which were tabled overnight at the Workplace Relations Commission.

Allowances

Under the new proposals the Government said it would “consider positively” the restoration of a number of allowances which were abolished for new entrants in 2012 as part of pay negotiations with public service unions later this year.

These are:

- Midwifery qualification (PHN)

- Registered general nurse in the community

- Nurse co-ordinator allowance

- Specialist co-ordinator allowance (nurse tutors)

- Nurses assigned to occupational therapy

- Child and maternal module - management reserve position and will further examine potential for introduction

As part of the revised proposals health service management says it will commit to providing cover for maternity leave in accordance with its funded workforce plan.

“The funded workforce plan provides for 37,043 whole time equivalents by the end of the year,” it said.

“This allows for the routine filling of vacancies on foot of retirements/resignations/maternity, subject in exceptional cases to changes in the ongoing service rationale or configuration. Management focus is on filling nursing and midwifery vacancies to ensure a sustainable workforce.”

The document says further funded workforce plans will be implemented in 2018 and 2019 to meet service need.

It also says management are committed to funding the upgrade of 127 existing staff nurses to clinical nurse manager grade one.

“This will be confined to medical and surgical wards and this initiative will commence in July 2017,” said the document.

Meanwhile Siptu, which represents over 4,000 nurses, said in a statement that some progress had been made in the talks at the Workplace Relations Commission and that further dialogue “may result in an acceptable outcome on the issues which remain outstanding”.

The union said it would put the revised proposals to its national nursing and midwifery committee.