Government rules out additional payments to nurses

INMO says Government tabled no realistic proposals to avert strike

The Labour Court on Tuesday decided not to intervene formally in the dispute. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

The Labour Court on Tuesday decided not to intervene formally in the dispute. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

 

The Government is prepared to look at reviews of the roles of nurses or other flexibilities but has insisted it cannot offer additional money outside the public service agreement in either 2019 or 2020, senior figures have maintained.

As nearly 40,000 nurses stage a 24-hour work stoppage on Wednesday, the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) said the Government had not tabled any “realistic proposals” which could have headed off the strike.

The Labour Court on Tuesday decided not to intervene formally in the dispute.

After engaging with public service management and the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) for eight hours on Monday, the Labour Court concluded an intervention did not hold out the prospect of impacting on the stoppage scheduled for Wednesday.

“The court therefore has decided not to formally intervene in this dispute at this time. The court will remain focused on the matter in the coming days as it continues to assess what assistance it might provide at the appropriate time,” it said.

INMO director of industrial relations Tony Fitzpatrick said the union was “deeply disappointed that the Government still have no serious proposals to resolve this dispute”.

“No nurse or midwife wants to go on strike, but we have been forced into this position by a Government that just isn’t listening.

“The largest strike in the history of the health service looms and the Government seemingly has nothing to say. We are always open for talks and to receive realistic proposals to end this dispute.”

Pay parity

The Minster for Health Simon Harris said he was disappointed that the strike was going ahead and that health service management remained available for talks with nursing unions.

The INMO is seeking pay parity with other graduate-entry health professional grades such as physiotherapists who it maintains are paid about €7,000 more than nurses. The union argues that such increases are necessary to deal with recruitment and retention issues in the health service.

Senior figures familiar with Government thinking said it was prepared to look at a review of nursing roles or other non-pay arrangements but that it could not provide additional payments outside the terms of the current public service agreement until it expires at the end of 2020.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said the Government would need funds to deal with jobs losses in the event of a hard Brexit as he faced calls in the Dáil to intervene in the nurses’ dispute.

Mr Varadkar said “I have to be a Taoiseach for the whole country” adding that in a few weeks or a few months’ time there could be job losses “and it would be irresponsible of me not to admit that to this House”.

‘Significant increase’

The Minster for Public Expenditure and Reform Paschal Donohoe defended pay rates for State employees and argued the health service was able to recruit nurses.

He said existing pay arrangements in the public service were attractive with incremental progression, flexible working arrangements and strong pension entitlements compared to the private sector where only an estimated 35 per cent had an occupational pension.

“Indeed over the last five years we have recruited an extra 3,876 nurses and midwives or 11 per cent of the total. Importantly these are additional staff, over and above retirements and leavers, and shows that the public service is able to recruit and retain nurses and midwives.

“The nursing unions are seeking a significant increase in pay over and above all of the benefits of the current agreement seeking parity with other health professionals.”

He said concession of this pay claim, “even if possible, would have serious consequences for the public finances and for public pay policy generally with estimated costs of €300million annually based on a 12 per cent claim in pay”.

“However, it would not end there. It would, I have no doubt, generate knock-on or ‘leapfrogging’ claims from the rest of the public service workforce, where there are already other well-aired pay grievances.”