Nurses and midwives vote overwhelmingly to strike over pay
INMO likely to stage number of 24-hour stoppages if no resolution found
The INMO’s executive will meet on January 7th and 8th to decide on the dates of the proposed strikes. Photograph: Frank Miller
Nurses and midwives have voted overwhelmingly to go on strike in the new year over pay and recruitment and retention difficulties.
Members of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) backed strike action by 95 per cent in a ballot counted on Tuesday.
The union is now expected to stage a number of 24-hour stoppages in hospitals across the country.
The INMO’s executive will meet on January 7th and 8th to decide on the dates of the proposed strikes.
Psychiatric nurses have already voted for industrial action up to and including strikes.
The INMO said on Tuesday that, as part of the strikes, INMO members would withdraw their labour but that they would provide emergency and life-saving care.
Nurses are currently campaigning for an across-the-board pay increase to address recruitment and retention difficulties in the health service.
The INMO has sought pay parity with groups such as physiotherapists and speech and language therapists. They argue that their members are paid about €7,000 a year less than staff in therapy grades but work more hours.
The INMO said nurses and midwives were the lowest-paid graduate professionals in the health service and that they earned thousands of euro less than similarly qualified health professionals, despite having a longer working week.
In September, the Public Service Pay Commission found in a report that there was no generalised recruitment and retention problem in nursing and midwifery although it highlighted localised difficulties.
The Government – based on the commission’s recommendations – put forward a €20 million package aimed at dealing with the issues including increased allowances and faster access to promotion. The Government said that between 18,000 and 20,000 nurses could benefit from the proposals.
The Minister for Public Expenditure Paschal Donohoe said the pursuit of cost- increasing pay claims and engagement in industrial action were both specifically excluded under the terms of the existing public service pay agreement to which both the INMO and PNA had subscribed.
He said the fact that the ballots took place and were predicated upon two matters which are specifically excluded under the terms of the agreement - no industrial action and no cost increasing claims - was “particularly regrettable as the outcome poses a risk of service interruption through industrial action for those who are dependent on our health services”.
INMO general secretary Phil Ní Sheaghdha said:”Ireland’s nurses and midwives are speaking with one clear voice. This vote reflects a deep frustration in our professions, which the government cannot continue to ignore.”
“Nurses and midwives simply want to do their jobs and care for patients properly. But low pay has led to staff shortages, compromising safe care.
“Ireland’s current haphazard approach to nurse staffing is costly and bad for patient care, as confirmed by the Minister for Health’s own nursing taskforce.”
INMO president Martina Harkin-Kelly said she did not know a single nurse or midwife who wanted to go on strike.
“We just want to get on with the job we love, but staff shortages have made that impossible. We’ve reached a breaking point.”
“Nurses and midwives are united. We’re standing up for safe staffing, fair pay, and for our patients, who deserve better care.”
“It’s time for Government to listen to frontline voices and fix this problem once and for all.”
A spokeswoman for the Minister for Health Simon Harris said he believed strike action should be avoided and that he urged all parties to work intensively together to avert industrial action.
The spokeswoman said the Department of Health would be meeting with the oversight committee for the public service agreement after Christmas for further engagement.
She said the Minister believed “this is the most appropriate forum”.