Nurses have warned of a potential national strike if they do not secure pay parity with other graduate healthcare professionals in forthcoming talks with the Government.
Delegates at the annual conference of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation backed overwhelmingly an emergency motion calling for nurses to have the same pay and working hours as other professionally-qualified public servants.
The union also wants full restoration of pay cuts imposed on its members in the public health system following the economic crash.
The conference was told that staff nurses were being paid 12 -15 per cent less at present than other graduate-entry grades in the health service.
Sean Kelly from the union’s Mullingar branch said people cleaning floors in hospitals were earning more than nurses.
He said his branch wanted the union to seek pay scales for nurses that reflected the increased responsibility, liability and accountability they faced.
“Nurses, no matter how recently qualified, deserve to be paid no less than any healthcare assistant or multi-task assistant at the top scale of their pay.”
“I work in an emergency department and am four years qualified. There are people cleaning floors earning more money than me. I am not saying they do not deserve to be paid €19 per hour. They do. They work really, really hard. But I deserve to be paid more than that.”
Mr Kelly said nurses had more responsibility, more accountability and a wider role than any other public sector worker.
“We should be at the top of the scale.”
Mary Leahy of the union’s executive council said nurses and midwives earned 12 - 15 per cent less than other healthcare groups with equivalent qualifications while also having to work the longest hours.
She said on average five years after qualifying, a staff nurse earned about €5,500 less than a similarly -qualified healthcare professional.
“After 15 years qualification, a staff nurse or midwife earns €12,000 less than a teacher and almost €7,000 less than a Garda.”
INMO general secretary Liam Doran said the union had been told by Government that it had to pursue its claims through procedures.
He said this procedure was now about to begin with the talks expected to get underway later this month.
“In order to maintain the peace, stability and certainty that they (the Government) want from a public service pay agreement, they are going to have to respond to our claim on this issue.”
He said the INMO would not accept a further three years of having its hands tied behind its back (by the terms of a new national deal) in pursuing its claim for pay parity.
“If there is any doubt on the part of the Government or colleague unions as to what the INMO will seek in these talks, let us be quite clear: we want our money back .
“Secondly, and this is where the struggle may begin, the parity claim has to be progressed as part of these talks.”
Mr Doran said there was no point in the Government coming up with empty rhetoric or false promises about tomorrow being a better day.
He said if the union’s claim was not addressed in any deal that emerged from the forthcoming talks, the union’s executive would consider the position.
However he indicated failure to resolve the pay parity claim could lead to a national dispute with severe interruption to health services.