Commission to reject nurses’ claim for pay increase

Nursing unions threaten industrial action unless Government comes up with pay plan

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The Government’s tough stance is set to put it on a collision course with the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation. Photograph: Frank Miller/The Irish Times

 

Claims by nurses for a special pay increase to address recruitment difficulties in the health service are set to be rejected by the Public Sector Pay Commission when it reports to Government shortly.

The commission was asked to examine recruitment and retention issues in the health sector, with nurses’ unions arguing that pay rises were needed if staff shortages and recruitment difficulties were to be tackled.

However, while the commission is expected to recommend increases in some allowances and greater access to promotional posts, it will find there is no general recruitment issue in nursing and consequently no case for an across-the-board pay increase.

Significant numbers of nurses could benefit from a parallel process under way between Government and unions to deal with lower pay rates applying to more recent entrants to the public service overall, the commission is expected to point out. A future pay review for nurses could be linked to the implementation of Sláintecare health reforms.

Anger

The findings are likely to provoke anger among nursing unions, who warned the Government this week it had one month to produce proposals for pay increases or face the prospect of industrial action.

The Government argued before the commission that the number of nurses in Ireland is comparatively high, and that they are well paid by international standards. The commission has largely accepted the arguments and evidence put forward by the Department of Public Expenditure, and will cite this in the report to justify its conclusions.

Recruitment

Despite calls for more health staff from unions, there is growing alarm in the Department of Public Expenditure and the Department of Finance about the pace of recruitment of staff.

A recent report from the Department of Finance warned the current level of hiring in the health service – running at an average of 271 new staff every month – was unsustainable.

There is significant pressure from other public sector unions not to give nurses a special deal, because it would lead to knock-on claims elsewhere in the public service.

Instead, the non-nursing unions want pay improvements for public servants recruited after 2013, who are on lower salaries than older colleagues. All public servants are also due pay increases this year under the existing pay agreement.

The Government’s stance will put it on a collision course with the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation whose executive council this week expressed anger at what it said was the failure to address the recruitment and retention crisis facing nursing and midwifery. The union gave the Government a one-month deadline to produce a “serious” pay offer.