Nurses to ballot for all-out strike action over pay

Members of INMO overwhelmingly rejected Government pay proposals

Nurses are to ballot for a nationwide all-out strike as part of a campaign to secure pay increases to tackle recruitment and retention difficulties.

The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) said if members backed the proposals, industrial action would involve a 24-hour stoppage in all hospitals.

It said nurses and midwives would provide life-preserving care and operate emergency response teams for theatres and emergency departments in such circumstances.

The union said if the dispute remained unresolved the strike could escalate to two 24-hour stoppages in the week after the first day of industrial action.


However any industrial action is unlikely to take place until mid December at the earliest.

Last month INMO members overwhelmingly rejected Government pay proposals to tackle recruitment and retention difficulties in the health service.

INMO general secretary Phil Ní Sheaghdha said on Tuesday the union would commence a ballot in a fortnight and this would allow time for health service employers to make new “ realistic” proposals.

The union's president Martina Harkin Kelly said nurses had been left with no choice. She said "we have been forced down this path because the Government had failed to deal with chronic understaffing".

Last Friday the HSE offered the INMO new talks this week in an attempt to avert potential industrial action. These talks are scheduled to commence later this week.

The Government's pay proposals were also rejected by members of the Psychiatric Nurses Association (PNA) which will meet next week to decide on its next steps.

However the proposals were accepted by Siptu which also represents nurses.

The INMO had sought an across-the-board pay rise to deal with recruitment and retention problems in the health service.

However, the Public Service Pay Commission found there was no generalised recruitment and retention problem in nursing and midwifery although it highlighted localised difficulties.

In September, the Government - based on recommendations of the commission - put forward a €20 million package of measures aimed at dealing with recruitment and retention problems in some areas of the health service including increased allowances and faster access to promotion posts. The Government maintained between 18,000 and 20,000 nurses could benefit from the proposals.

Some nurses could also benefit from a separate Government initiative to address the two-tier pay system in the public service under which staff recruited since 2011 are paid less than longer-serving colleagues.

However, some nurses would benefit from neither of the Government’s new pay proposals.

Ms Ní Sheaghdha said nurses were seeking pay parity with other healthcare professionals with degree qualification entry levels.

She said at present nurses, although they had identical qualification requirements, were paid €7,000 less than these other groups - such as physiotherapists and speech and language therapists - and had a longer working week at 39 hours compared to 37 hours.

A spokeswoman for the Minister for Health Simon Harris said he was pleased that an engagement was due to take place in the coming days between unions representing nurses and the HSE.

“The Minister is hopeful all sides will engage constructively to prevent industrial action from taking place”, the spokeswoman said.

Meanwhile staff in the National Ambulance Service, who are members of the Psychiatric Nurses Association, are to escalate industrial action on Wednesday by introducing an overtime ban as part of a dispute over representation rights and the deduction of union subscriptions from pay.

PNA general secretary Peter Hughes said: "The determination of PNA ambulance personnel members to protect their basic trade union rights is resolute. As dedicated front line emergency professionals they deserve to have their wishes to join the union of their choice respected. The intransigence of the HSE in forcing this dispute on ambulance personnel should be of concern to all trade unionists."

The HSE said the National Ambulance Service was working towards ensuring continuity of service. It said it did not anticipate any interruption in ambulance services on Wednesday as a result of the planned escalation in industrial action. The HSE said it was continuing to monitor the situation very closely on an ongoing basis.

Martin Wall

Martin Wall

Martin Wall is the former Washington Correspondent of The Irish Times. He was previously industry correspondent