Nurses strikes: Government says it will not provide pay proposals next week
Psychiatric nurses said new proposals would use savings to fund pay parity with other professional groups
The Department of Public Expenditure has insisted it will not be bringing forward proposals for additional pay for nurses next week as part of moves to avert strikes.
The indusrial action is strikes scheduled to take place over the coming weeks.
It said on Tuesday its position continued to be that under the terms of the current public service agreement there could be be no cost increasing claims for improvements in the pay and conditions of public service personnel.
Following the first round of talks with health service mangement on Tuesday the Psychiatric Nurses Association (PNA) said employers had promised to provide proposals next Monday on claims by nurses for pay parity with other grades such as physiotherapists.
The union’s general secretary Peter Hughes said under these proposals savings from areas such as overtime and the use of agency employees would be used to offset the cost of increasing pay for staff nurses.
However this was strongly refuted by the Government.
The Department of Public Expenditure said there was “no basis or validity “ to claims that new pay proposals would be brought forwardby the mangement side. It said the pay claims put forward by nursing unions were precludedby the existing agreement.
The Minister for Health Simon Harris welcomed the commencement of talks with nursing unions but said the Government would not be deviating from the existing public service agreement. He said any solution to the current nurses’ dispute must be found within the terms of the accord.
Nursing unions expressed disappointment that no proposals were put forward by management at the talks on Tuesday.
Unions said preparations for six 24-hour work stoppages, starting on January 30th, would continue.
About 37,000members of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) are scheduled to stage 24-hour work stoppages on January 30th and February 5th, 7th, 12th, 13th and 14th unless the dispute is resolved.
The PNA will stage stoppages on February 12th, 13th and 14th and will put in place an overtime ban on a number of days beforehand.
INMO general secretary Phil Ni Sheaghdha said there were clear savings that could be made from reduced spending on agency staff and the incorrect staffing of wards and overtime.
She said her union had made proposals for savings and these were to be considered by management.
Further talks with the HSE on contingency arrangements to apply during any strike will take place on Wednesday.
The HSE and the Department of Health have not yet made any comment arising from the talks on Tuesday.
Ms Ni Sheaghdha said capacity in the Irish health service did not match the country’s needs.
She said more beds needed to be opened and new services developed but for that to happen additional nurses would be required.
She said until rates of pay for nurses in Ireland became competitive the health service was not going to “win the battle” on recruitment and retention.
The INMO is seeking pay parity with other graduate-entry groups in the health service such as physiotherapists who, it maintains, earn up to €7,000 per year more than nurses.
The Government has said the nurses pay demands would cost €300million and lead to knock-on pay claims by other public service groups.
Mr Hughes said his members were frustrated at the lack of movement by the Government to resolve the current dispute.
He said PNA members did not see any option but to strike. He also said the resolution could be found within the parameters of the current public service agreement.
Meanwhile Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe signalled that a separate wage deal for nurses and midwives would be unfair because of the inevitable knock-on claims from other sectors of the public service.
Mr Varadkar said “we can only do things within the constraints of a limited amount of finance. We balanced the books last year just about.”
“But to concede to this and all the knock-on claims which would inevitably follow would require us to pay for it through borrowing and I don’t think it’s prudent or right or sensible in the long-term to fund pay increases with borrowed money because it would inevitably to a pay cut in two or three years’ time.”
Mr Donohoe said the challenge was that any change to the wage bill for nurses and midwives would mean that every other sector in the public service “will make a similar demand”.