Nurses will lose pay rises, increments and gains for new recruits if they go on strike, Government and union sources confirmed on Thursday, as the psychiatric nurses’ union said they would join a wave of strikes by nurses next month.
Three high-ranking Government sources confirmed to The Irish Times that the nurses would "automatically" lose the gains and benefits of the existing pay agreement if they break that agreement by going on strike.
These include general pay rises later this year, gains for newer entrants which are due to take effect in April of this year, and the payment of increments, the system of gradual pay increases for public servants as they get older.
The nurses union, the Irish Nurses and Midwives’ Organisation (INMO), has warned its members about the possible losses if they proceed with the strike, which members backed by an overwhelming majority before Christmas.
On Thursday the executive of the Psychiatric Nurses’ Association (PNA) announced that its members would strike on three days next month, and would not be available for overtime on five days in the coming weeks.
The PNA decision means the Government is facing a wave of strikes by more than 40,000 nursing and midwifery personnel across the country in the weeks ahead.
The INMO earlier this week announced that its members would strike on six days over the coming weeks – January 30th and February 5th, 7th, 12th, 13th and 14th.
The officer board of the PNA said the strikes by its 6,000 members would take place on February 12th, 13th and 14th. It said an overtime ban would be put in place on January 31st and on February 1st, 5th, 6th and 7th.
The nurses are campaigning for pay increases to deal with recruitment and retention problems.
Senior Government figures remain adamant they will not concede to the nurses’ demands, citing the upfront cost and the belief it would spell the end of the public sector pay agreement – something other unions have made clear to Ministers and officials.
Yet despite the hard line from Government Buildings, there are growing signs of nerves among Fine Gael backbenchers at the prospect of nurses on the picket lines.
Dublin North West TD Noel Rock said a special arrangement should be agreed for nurses.
“I’d like to see a special case made for nurses but looking at the figures I’m not sure how it would work, though I’d like to see it explored if possible.
“By and large constituents think two things: the nurses should be better paid, and that ideally it won’t go to a strike. They think nurses do a great job, and I’d agree with that. The existing agreement sets out a 6-8 per cent pay rise, with more for recent recruits. It’s not entirely clear how we can help ease this grievance without undoing the entire public sector pay agreement though, and that’s why we need further talks and calm heads.”
Clare TD Joe Carey said there should be "give and take on both sides".
“It is important that both sides try to find a resolution to this dispute. I respect the work that nurses do, and I think they do an amazing job. There is huge public support for the work that they do. This can only be resolved around the table. The Public Sector Pay Commission put forward a €20 million package which up to 20,000 nurses and midwives would benefit from.
“We need to try to avoid a strike at all costs. Cancelled operations have a huge knock-on effect. There should be give and take on both sides. The Public Service Pay Commission did put forward a pay package and that should not be dismissed by the nurses either.”
Longford Westmeath TD Peter Burke said the Government should consider examining "innovative solutions" such as offering nurses who have just graduated a five-year contract. "We also need to accelerate the talks, but any agreement would have to be under the terms of the public pay agreement. We cannot unravel that."
Kildare North TD Bernard Durkan said nursing was an area which was under pressure, and called for the issue to be addressed "as quickly as possible".
However, he warned that any attempt to break the public sector pay deal could lead to a “leap frog” effect in other sectors. “If the ground rules are broken that leads to other issues in other areas. There is a procedure in place.”