The prospect of industrial action by nurses has increased after talks between the Government and unions over the recruitment and retention of staff broke down last night.
The Irish Nurses and Midwives’ Organisation (INMO) said health service management would need to radically improve existing proposals if there were to be any further discussions.
The INMO executive meets tomorrow to consider whether plans for industrial action, including work stoppages – which nurses have already strongly backed in a ballot – should go ahead.
“Unless there is a radical improvement in the next 24 hours it is probable that the executive council will, in the context of this adjournment, take a collective decision to serve notice, for industrial action, on all health employers,” the INMO said.
The organisation accused health service management of rowing back on a previous commitment to put in place a funded nursing workforce plan for this year.
The organisation said that during yesterday’s talks a request that health service management allow directors of nursing and midwifery fill all posts that became vacant this year was refused. It said management also refused to guarantee replacement of maternity leave vacancies on a one-for-one basis.
The union said the net effect of this would be that “the crisis remains and will continue to destabilise the delivery of safe patient care”.
The INMO said it remained available for further discussions but that “the context for these discussions must be a funded workforce plan, for 2017, which is wholly managed, at workplace level, by the director of nursing/midwifery”.
Siptu nursing representatives said the talks with the HSE and Department of Health had reached an impasse.
“The management presented the unions with a paper that falls way short of our members’ expectations regarding the protection of nursing and midwifery services into the future. The HSE must revisit its position if it is to successfully reach an outcome that is in the best interest of patients and staff alike,” sector organiser Kevin Figgis said.
The union’s national nursing committee will meet on Tuesday to decide on the next steps to take. Siptu said it remained open to further talks.
The Irish Times reported on Monday that the Government had agreed to formally acknowledge that the health service was experiencing difficulties in recruiting and retaining staff. This would allow the commission to carry out an examination of the nursing labour market, increasing the prospect of nurses securing a special pay deal in the months ahead.
Separately, talks over pay increases for Iarnród Éireann staff at the Workplace Relations Commission ended without agreement yesterday.
A pay claim of up to 21 per cent by the two biggest trade unions at the company, Siptu and the National Bus and Rail Union (NBRU), is now to be referred to the Labour Court.
Rejected management proposals
It is understood that at the talks at the Workplace Relations Commission on Monday, unions rejected management proposals for any pay rise to be linked to efficiencies or flexibilities.
The unions want pay rises “with no productivity strings attached”.
Ahead of the talks, Iarnród Éireann said that continued efficiency and flexibility was essential if the company was to be in any position to respond to employees’ aspirations for improved earnings.
The company warned that it remained “one misstep away from insolvency, due to accumulated deficits from recent years”.
Company management said Iarnród Éireann lost €3 million last year, and had an accumulated deficit of €153 million.
After the talks ended on Monday, the general secretary of the NBRU, Dermot O’Leary, said he was very disappointed that no pay offer had emerged from the discussions.