The graduate generation left nursing genuine grievances over pay

Mon, Jan 14, 2013, 00:00

Kate O’Mahony (22) graduated as a nurse last December and is coming to the end of a temporary position at the Mater hospital in Dublin. She won’t, however, be applying for one of the 1,000 posts advertised by the Health Service Executive at reduced pay.

Last Friday was the first day graduate nurses could apply for the jobs. Nursing unions have urged them not to do so.

Under the HSE initiative, the nurses would receive a salary of about €22,000 compared to the current entry rate of €26,400.

In the UK the starting rate for a fully qualified nurse or midwife is just under £21,200. However, staff in London can receive a bonus of up to 20 per cent. Nursing unions in Ireland have maintained that a nurse graduate going to work in London could receive the equivalent of €30,000 in addition to better educational programmes.

Experience needed

O’Mahony explains: “Currently, I get about €26,500 as a temporary nurse and they want me to take a job for €22,000.

“I understand everyone needs the experience, but in my course we did 11 weeks’ placement in first year, 16 weeks in second and third year, and a 36-week paid internship in our final year. Now they want us to do another two years.”

While she wants to remain in Ireland, her mother is an American citizen and so she is now considering taking nursing exams that would allow her to work in the US.

“I’m going to look at the option of going to the States. My cousin graduated the same time as me and is working in the US on 2½ times the starting salary I am being offered.

“When you break down what we are being offered, it works out between €10 and €11 an hour. My friend had work in a clothes shop in college at weekends and she was earning more than that.”

She thinks it will be hard for many nurses not to take on the new jobs, despite the reduced pay. “I’ve been in the Mater for five years, and I’m afraid that if others apply for these jobs, I will get the boot. I don’t think it is fair – if we say yes to this, it will only get worse. I know they are hitting teachers also, but what about new TDs, or graduate gardaí, or the Defence Forces? Why not put this scheme in place for everyone and not just nurses?”

Last October, a similar situation was faced by student teachers who took to the streets after reduced salaries were introduced for new entrants to the profession.

Under the latest Government plans, new entrants receive a starting salary of €30,702. They also have the option of being paid a pensionable allowance of €1,592 for supervision and substitution which will bring their starting salary to €32,294. Overall, the changes mean new entrants will earn about 20 per cent less than their colleagues who secured permanent jobs as recently as 2010.

In Britain, a newly qualified teacher earns a minimum of £21,588 (€26,000) in inner London but they can also start higher up the scale depending on previous experience.

Declan Molloy (21) will graduate this year with a bachelor of arts degree in mathematics and education, and given the need for specialist mathematics teachers in Ireland, he is hopeful of being able to secure some work. He has strong views on the fact he will be on reduced terms compared to someone who graduated two years earlier.

“I feel sickened about it,” he says. “Why would I deserve less than someone who simply did the course a year or two earlier than I did? We are both qualified the same way. We studied the same amount and have the same qualifications.”

He says that like nurses, younger graduates and new teachers have to mobilise themselves if they want to change the pay scales on offer, but he says many are reluctant in case it affects their job prospects.

“To be honest, I have joined the union but I haven’t done anything in terms of protesting against the cuts. If it was all teachers protesting on the streets that would be okay, but if I was to say anything in a school or wherever, I would be very wary in case I was labelled a troublemaker.”

He says graduates from his course are now being targeted with job offers by private sector companies working in the area of statistics and analysis. “The State is in danger of losing highly qualified specialist teachers,” he adds.

The situation is even more uncertain for primary school teaching graduates. Michael Mather from Clare is coming to the end of his training, and while he has some substitute work, the prospects of full-time employment are low.

“Over the summer, I applied for about 200 jobs and that isn’t cheap,” he says. “You have to almost give them a booklet on yourself. I didn’t get called for one interview.

“Not one.”