A strike by 40,000 nurses over three consecutive days this week has been suspended.
The move by the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) followed the issuing by the Labour Court of its recommendations aimed at resolving the dispute over pay and staff retention issues on Monday evening.
In a seven page document the Labour Court, which formally intervened in the dispute on Monday afternoon, recommended thousands of nurses be able to move to an enhanced pay-scale offering salaries of €35,806 upwards.
The development of an Enhanced Nurse Practice salary scale will begin a process of transformation for the profession to be continued in future public pay agreements, according to the recommendation issued by the court.
A range of tangible and specific enhanced nursing practice measures constitute the basis for a “fundamental change” in the role of staff nurses, it says.
The costs of the proposal will be funded by “ameliorating” existing arrangements for new entrant pay and reductions in spending on agency staff.
Under the proposal, nurses will be able to migrate to the new salary scale from March 1st. Staff will be able to migrate once they reach point 4 of their existing salary scale “if they meet the qualifying conditions”.
The salary for point 1 of the enhanced scale is €35,806, and this rises to €45,841 for point 8.
At present nurses earn €33,367 on point 4 of the existing salary scale. A move to the enhanced scale therefore involves a salary increase of €2,439 or 7.3 per cent. This increase will be offset by changes to a previously announced government initiative to tackle the two tier pay scale for recently appointed nurses. Many of the nurses in line for this salary increase would have been due increases under existing plans.
To underpin the new arrangement, a new nursing contract focused on delivering improved outcomes should be finalised within three weeks, the court recommended.
Part of the new contract will be to shift work to the community and support implementation of new approaches to the management of chronic conditions, it said. The contract will also support the implementation of Sláintecare.
Staffing and skill mixes in all areas of nursing are to be review with the aim of facilitating nurses to deliver and delegate care.
The court says the final details of the new salary scale have yet to be worked out as part of contract discussions. An independent verification mechanism will be set up to check whether the “significant savings” predicted by both sides actually materialise.
“Failure to deliver these verifiable savings by the end of 2019 will lead to a pausing of the roll out of this initiative. The parties to this agreement will reconvene to examine this structure in the event of failure to realise these savings.”
An expert review of the nursing profession should be undertaken in the medium term, the court also recommended.
The location/qualification allowance should be extended to nurses and midwives working in medical and surgical areas, but the cost of this should not exceed €10 million a year.
Minister for Health Simon Harris welcomed the news the strike on this Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday had been suspended by the INMO while it considers the Labour Court recommendations.
The Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe said he would brief Cabinet on the developments on Tuesday but would not say how much the Labour Court recommendations would cost.
The executive council of the INMO decided to suspend upcoming strikes following the issuing of the Labour Court recommendation.
The union, in a statement, said the recommendation “makes progress across all areas of concern to the INMO, including the key areas of safe staffing and addressing recruitment and retention problems”.
It said the recommendations included guaranteed multi-annual funding to maintain safe staffing levels; significant changes to salary scale and allowances; increased education and training opportunities; and an expert group to examine, in a short period of time, remaining pay and reform issues including those affecting senior management grades.
Details of the recommendation will be presented to INMO members soon and will be subject to a ballot.
Phil Ní Sheaghdha, the INMO general secretary, said: “There is still more negotiation to be done, but we are at a point where we believe strikes can be suspended. Members will be kept fully informed and will have the final say in a ballot.
“Safe staffing along with recruitment and retention were key concerns for us, and we have made progress on both.
“We are immensely grateful for our determined nurse and midwife members, who are standing up for our patients and our professions. They have at all times worked to ensure patient safety during this dispute,” she added.
The Psychiatric Nurses Association (PNA) also suspended its planned industrial action following a Labour Court hearing on Monday.
PNA general secretary Peter Hughes said the board of the PNA agreed to suspend strike action on the basis that intensive engagement will commence in the next three days between the PNA, the HSE, the Department of Health and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform prior to a full Labour Court hearing on Friday.
Meanwhile Fórsa trade union said it would study the detail of the Labour Court recommendation regarding the nurses’ dispute, and any implications it may have for other civil and public service grades.
“We expect that other unions will do the same, and that the ICTU Public Services Committee will consider the matter in due course,” it said.
After three days of exploratory talks over the weekend with the INMO, the PNA and public service management, the chairman of the Labour Court Kevin Foley said on Monday morning its briefing by the parties had concluded. He said the Labour Court would reflect on what it had heard and would make a decision by mid-morning on Monday on whether to intervene formally in the dispute, which it later did.
Both nursing unions had maintained that across-the -board pay rises were needed to tackle recruitment and retention problems in the health service.
More than 80,000 people have already been affected by cancelled medical procedures and out-patient clinic appointments as a result of the three work stoppages which have been undertaken during recent weeks by INMO members .
Health service management are concerned at the cumulative effect of the cancellations of procedures and appointments since the start of the wave of strikes at the end of January.
Meanwhile, about 500 ambulance personnel are still scheduled to go on strike on Friday as part of a separate dispute over trade union representation and the deduction of subscriptions from staff payroll.
The army will be on standby to provide support - as it did by providing military ambulances and crews during a previous strike by members of the National Ambulance Service Representative Association (Nasra) last month.
Nasra is a branch of the PNA. However, the HSE does not recognise it as a representative body for personnel in the national ambulance service.
In addition to the planned stoppage on Friday, Nasra is also scheduled to stage two further strikes in the weeks ahead as part of the current dispute.