Nurses back industrial action over working conditions

Union has mandate for mixture of one-day strikes and continuous action, says Doran

The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation wants incentives to recruit workers and secure adequate staffing levels. File photograph: Frank Miller

The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation wants incentives to recruit workers and secure adequate staffing levels. File photograph: Frank Miller

 

Nurses have voted by 90 per cent in favour of industrial action, including a series of one-day stoppages, in a dispute over staffing levels and working conditions.

The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) is to seek immediate talks with the HSE and Department of Health to agree “special measures” to address a recruitment and staff retention crisis in hospitals.

Any industrial action would not take place until the beginning of February.

The executive of the INMO will meet again on January 17th to review progress and, if necessary, to decide on the nature and timing of industrial action.

INMO general secretary Liam Doran said members had given the union a mandate for a mixture of one-day strikes and continuous industrial action.

He said the industrial action would be “shaped at contracting health services”.

“It will include no redeployment from one ward to another, no cross cover in the community, no overtime or no working excess hours.”

“Essentially what it will do is to force management to contract services to that appropriate to the level of staffing available.”

He said there were still 3,500 fewer nurses and midwives working in the State than there were eight years ago in a health service that had never been busier.

Mr Doran said the provision of financial incentives to encourage nurses working elsewhere to take posts in the public health system and those already working there to remain had to form part of the proposed new round-table talks with the Government and HSE.

He said the €1,500 relocation grant offered by the HSE last year to encourage nurses working abroad to return to Ireland had “failed miserably”.

He said the initiative last year had cost the HSE about €250,000 and had resulted in about 88 nurses being recruited. He said about half of those had gone back.

“That has got to be greatly enhanced,” Mr Doran said.

Mr Doran did not specifically set out the level of financial incentives the union believed was necessary.

However, asked whether it should be along the lines of the €6,000 signing-on fees being offered by some Irish private hospitals to nurses, he said: “That is one of the measures that would be self-evidently required.”

“If you have private healthcare employers offering sign-on bonuses that are four times the level being offered in the public sector, that is obviously one of the issues that has to be addressed.”

“There are financial efforts required but there are also workplace efforts such as improving staffing, working hours and pathways to continuing professional development.”

Mr Doran said the Irish public healthcare system was not sufficiently attractive to nurses and midwives.

“Simply offering permanent posts in their existing guise is not winning the labour market battle. So we have to do more.”

“This campaign is about ensuring that the Government realise that they have to do more and have to do it quickly.”

‘Regrattable’

In a statement Minister for Health Simon Harris said it was “regrettable that the INMO has voted in favour of industrial action”.

“While I understand that our health service faces serious challenges on recruitment and retention, industrial action is not the solution. It will not reduce the numbers of patients on trolleys in emergency departments, will not reduce the waiting lists or improve service delivery and could lead to the cancellation of elective surgeries.

On Wednesday the Government announced it would be introducing “more attractive” career pathways for nurses in a bid to encourage emigrants to return to work in the State as well as providing incentives to keep staff already working here.

Mr Harris said his department would be producing new policies early in 2017 to “radically reduce” the length of time it took for a nurse to qualify as a specialist or as an advanced nurse practitioner.

The INMO is seeking the introduction of new incentives to recruit and retain nurses and midwives and to secure adequate staffing levels.

Any move by nurses to close hospital beds to match the availability of staff could worsen the overcrowding seen in hospitals where about 540 patients were on trolleys at one point this week.

The Government intends that the issue of pay for nurses should be addressed as part of new talks to take place with trade unions, in two phases, in the months ahead. The first talks will be in January and the second following the publication of the report of the new Public Service Pay Commission, probably after Easter.

The first set of negotiations are aimed at dealing with pay “anomalies” arising for most public service personnel following the decision of the Government to accept a Labour Court recommendation on a €50 million pay offer for gardaí.

The second tranche of talks are aimed at putting in place a successor agreement to the existing Lansdowne Road public service pay accord.