Nurses union warns further industrial action still possible

Unions say the Government proposals on shift changes and redeployment are unacceptable

The risk of further industrial action by nurses has not been eliminated, the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO ) has said.

The union on Monday objected strongly at the Labour Court to controversial management proposals for a new contract which included major changes to existing shift patterns and the right to redeploy nursing staff by up to 40km during shifts.

Siptu said its representatives at the Labour Court had put forward a "robust defence" of the rights of its nursing members in the face of what it described as "an act of opportunism by Government to erode hard fought for terms and conditions ".

Minister for Health Simon Harris said all parties were engaging in good faith at the Labour Court.


“The INMO worked very hard, as did the Government, to find a way forward that would ensure we could support our nurses, pay them more in many cases, but also in return for that ensure we can reform the health services through Slaintecare.”

Speaking after the hearing, INMO general secretary Phil Ni Sheaghdha said if industrial action was reinstated it would be because of the employers' insistence on imposing a "punitive" contract.

The new contract was a key element of a proposed settlement to the recent national strike by nurses and midwives. New productivity measures in the proposed contract were aimed at offsetting the cost of introducing a higher-paid enhanced nursing grade .

The settlement proposals could cost up to €50 million by the end of 2020.


Ms Ni Sheaghdha said the proposed shift changes and redeployment were not necessary, and would worsen recruitment and retention difficulties.

“The contract is not fit for purpose.“Our very strong view is that matters relating to redeployment and matters relating to hours of work are central to our members’ concerns when they go to work. They have to be correct. They have to ensure that women can go to work and nursing is a predominantly female profession.”

She said the issues of redeployment and hours of work were central to the success or otherwise of the overall outcome of the dispute.

Siptu health division organiser Paul Bell said the "concerted effort by Government to remove our members' right to a decent and fair contract of employment will never benefit the public".

“It simply only serves to undermine our members’ ability to deliver the best care possible to their patients. We also made the case to the Labour Court that if Siptu members decide not to sign the new contract they would be entitled to remain on their existing contract with all the protections, pay restoration and pay progression provided for in the Public Service Stability Agreement.”

Siptu nursing sector organiser Kevin Figgis said proposals seeking to have nurses or midwives move to another location up to 40km away on a daily or week by week basis had no place in the health service.

“Equally, proposals for nurses and midwives to work shifts of as little as four hours in duration stand no chance of acceptance by our members.”


Ms Ni Sheaghdha said the management proposals were not justified. She said it was absolutely not the case that nurses were seeking to secure the higher pay set out in the original settlement proposals to resolve the recent strike without accepting any new productivity measures.

“The matters in contention are very specific, and they are specific to a demand that in our view is not necessary and does not determine productivity,” Ms Ni Sheaghdha said.

“What determines productivity is better outcomes for patients. And the best outcome for patients will be that nurses and midwives want to work in the Irish health service .”

Martin Wall

Martin Wall

Martin Wall is the former Washington Correspondent of The Irish Times. He was previously industry correspondent