Nurses urge Government to make proposals to avert strike

Talks with group overseeing public service agreement underway

Psychiatric Nurses Association has announced that its members will strike on three days next month and not be available for overtime on five days in the coming weeks. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

Psychiatric Nurses Association has announced that its members will strike on three days next month and not be available for overtime on five days in the coming weeks. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

 

Nurses have again urged the Government to bring forward meaningful proposals to avert a series of planned strikes scheduled to start at the end of the month.

Arriving at talks with the body overseeing compliance with the public service agreement, the general secretary of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO ) Phil Ní Sheaghdha said the country was now only 12 days away from a very serious national nurses’ dispute.

She said her union was attending the talks on Friday to do business.

She said she hoped the Government’s representatives were in the same mindset.

Psychiatric nurses, who are scheduled to go on strike next month, will not attend the meeting.

The Psychiatric Nurses Association (PNA) said it could not attend the talks as its executive committee is also scheduled to meet on Friday.

The PNA, which is not affiliated to the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (Ictu), has previously expressed its unhappiness with the oversight group as it is currently structured.

The oversight group is made up of representatives of public service management, as well as the public service committee of Ictu. It is chaired by an official of the Workplace Relations Commission.

The PNA has previously argued that it was promised by the Government that an alternative structure would be established.

The INMO and a number of teachers’s unions will attend meetings with the oversight on Friday.

The group is likely to consider assertions made by nursing unions that under the current accord, the Government could deal with health service recruitment and retention issues by increasing pay, without this leading to knock-on claims by other categories of staff.

This view is strongly disputed by the Government.

Additional payments

Other unions such as Fórsa and Siptu have publicly said that if nurses secured additional payments outside of the terms of the current agreement, they would seek similar arrangements for their members.

Talks at the oversight group meeting are not expected to involve negotiations on pay; the HSE and Department of Health have said they will put forward proposals to nursing unions at direct talks next Monday.

The INMO is scheduled to stage the first of six days of strike action on January 30th.

The PNA is to put an overtime ban in place on January 31th and escalate its industrial action to work stoppages in February.

Separately, three teachers’s unions – the INTO, ASTI and TUI – will also meet with the oversight group on Friday.

The unions are expected to set out why members are unhappy with Government proposals last autumn that addressed lower pay rates for staff recruited after 2011.

These proposals centred on provisions to allow those on lower pay rates to catch up with longer-serving colleagues by jumping two increments on their pay scale over a number of years.

The Government estimated the initiative would cost nearly €200 million by the time it was completed in 2026.

Margin

In a ballot in October, primary school teachers who are members of the INTO voted against the Government initiative on new-entrant pay by a margin of 53 to 47 per cent.

In December, members of the country’s largest secondary teachers’s union, the ASTI, also rejected the proposals to address the two-tier pay system in a ballot. The unions argued the proposals did not fully address the matter. Neither union has yet asked members to vote on industrial action.

In October, members of the TUI backed the Government proposals in a ballot.

However, the TUI said its members in September 2017 had backed a campaign of industrial action as directed by its leadership on the issue of pay inequality.

The TUI said on Thursday this mandate for industrial action “can still be activated by the union if and when it sees fit to do so”.

Speaking after the meeting with the oversight body, teacher unions welcomed the fact that discussions were underway but said the Government had not given any indication it was prepared to enhance its existing proposals.

Earlier, ASTI president Breda Lynch said a ballot for strike action would be a “natural follow on” from the rejection by members of the proposals .

She said the ASTI had previously given a commitment to work with other teacher unions on the issue and that its executive would the matter on Saturday week.

TUI president Séamus Lahart said his members had not accepted the Government proposals as a final solution to the pay equality issue. INTO president Joe Killeen said his members were hoping the union could negotiate an improvement that would achieve full pay equalisation.