Nurses overwhelmingly reject Government pay proposals

Significant increase in chance of industrial action in hospitals, mental health services

A file image of  INMO members protesting outside  St Vincent’s Hospital in Dublin. Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

A file image of INMO members protesting outside St Vincent’s Hospital in Dublin. Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

 

The prospect of industrial action in hospitals and in mental health services in the weeks ahead has increased significantly after nurses overwhelmingly rejected Government pay proposals.

Members of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) and the Psychiatric Nurses Association (PNA) both voted against the new proposals by 94 per cent in ballots which were finalised on Tuesday.

The INMO maintained direct talks with the Government on pay were now needed to avoid a serious industrial dispute.

The PNA called for “realistic proposals” to be tabled to address the nurse recruitment and retention crisis.

The INMO said its executive council would consider the issue of industrial action at a meeting on November 5th.

INMO president Martina Harkin-Kelly said the overwhelming rejection of the proposals was “a strong wake-up call to Government who are sleep walking into a serious industrial dispute if the recruitment and retention crisis is not taken seriously and addressed immediately”.

PNA general secretary Peter Hughes said his union’s national executive would now convene “ to seek a mandate for industrial action”.

Nurses are likely to have to ballot again on whether any industrial action should go ahead.

The Department of Public Expenditure signalled on Tuesday evening that while the Government was open to engagement with nurses, pay was determined by the terms of the current public service agreement.

A spokeswoman for the Minister for Public Expenditure Paschal Donohoe said the Government was fully committed to the public service accord which will cost about €1.1 billion over the period to 2021.

“ Budgetary policy has now been set for 2019, with gross pay for next year estimated to cost some €18.6 billion. This represents an increase of €936 million on the 2018 estimate. “ This cannot be changed.”

€20 million package

The Government last month – based on recommendations of the Public Service Pay Commission – put forward a €20 million package of measures aimed at dealing with recruitment and retention problems in some areas of the health service.

The commission rejected calls by nurses for an across-the-board pay rise. In a report, it found there was no generalised recruitment and retention problem in respect of nursing and midwifery, but that some difficulties existed in meeting workforce requirements in specific areas.

The INMO said on Tuesday its members had rejected the proposals “on the basis that they will not resolve the current and ongoing crisis which sees high reliance on agency and foreign recruitment in order to provide minimal staffing levels which nurses and midwives say are compromising safe patient care”.

The PNA said nurses who were experiencing the impact of the staffing shortages on a daily basis were extremely disappointed with the commission’s proposals which it described as “totally inadequate”.

Under the proposals, a location allowance of about €1,850, paid to nurses in 13 specific parts of the health service, would be increased by 20 per cent and extended to those in maternity units. The INMO maintained this rise would be worth €7 per week before tax.

The proposals would also see a specialist allowance of €2,791 per year, paid to nurses and midwives who acquired post-graduate qualifications, increased by 20 per cent. The INMO maintained the €558 rise in this allowance was the equivalent of €11 a week before tax.

Proposals

Under the proposals staff nurses and midwives would also be eligible to attain the grade of senior staff nurse/midwife after 17 rather than the current 20 years.

INMO general secretary Phil Ní Sheaghdha said: “It is not surprising that nurses and midwives have expressed their anger in such an overwhelming rejection of these proposals. These proposals would do nothing to address the short staffing and appalling working conditions they face every day. The clear message we have received from our members is that they feel abandoned and put upon by being forced to care for an increasing number of patients in poor and dangerous working conditions due to understaffing because of an inability to attract and retain nurses and midwives in our public health service.”

She said the Government had not spoken directly with the INMO. She said “we now require direct dialogue with Government if a dispute is to be avoided”.

The Minister for Health Simon Harris said about 18,000 nurses stood to benefit from the proposals arising from the Public Service Pay Commission report while the initiative on new-entrant pay would see about 10,000 nurses receive approximately €3,000 more in pay.

“It is clear that these measures will improve the overall pay package for the majority of nurses and midwives. They show that the Public Service Stability Agreement and the related negotiation process are delivering significant improvements for nurses.”

The Minister said he expected further engagement with the INMO to take place over the coming weeks.