Psychiatric nurses to consider strike after pay rise request denied

Fórsa union warns other health staff will seek more money if wishes of nurses granted

Nursing unions are seeking pay parity with groups such as physiotherapists and speech and language thereapists.

Nursing unions are seeking pay parity with groups such as physiotherapists and speech and language thereapists.

 

Psychiatric nurses are to consider strike action in the mental health services after health service management rejected their union’s proposal for a special pay rise as a downpayment on a future overall salary review.

It is understood that the HSE and the Department of Health told the Psychiatric Nurses Association (PNA) that the proposals would fall outside the scope of the existing public service agreement.

Separately, Minister for Health Simon Harris ruled out ageneral pay rise for nurses although he acknowledged the health service was facing a challenging environment to recruit and retain staff.

The Minister told the Oireachtas health committee that unions signed up to the public service agreement had undertaken not to submit pay claims before the deal expired at the end of 2020. He urged all parties to use the State’s industrial relations machinery for the resolution of disputes.

The executive committee of the PNA will consider balloting members for strike action when it meets on Thursday.

The Government, meanwhile was separately warned that it would face pay claims by other healthcare staff if it provides additional pay increases to nurses over and above those set out in the current public service agreement.

The trade union Fórsa said that it “will not accept a situation where any profession or grade is treated more favourably than others in the Government’s response to the Public Service Pay Commission’s findings”.

‘Monopoly’

Eamon Donnelly, the union’s national secretary, said no profession or union had “a monopoly” on the issues of staff recruitment and retention in the health service.

Mr Donnelly said the commission had found in its original report last year that retention problems in physiotherapy, occupational therapy, social care and elsewhere “were more acute than in nursing”.

Nurses are currently campaigning for an across-the-board pay increase to address the issues with unions seeking pay parity with groups such as physiotherapists and speech and language thereapists. They argue that their members are paid about €7,000 a year less than staff in therapy grades but work more hours.

The commission found in a report in September 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.

Some nurses could also benefit from a separate 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.

Stoppages

However, these proposals were rejected by members of the PNA and the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO), which has warned it will ballot its members for strike action if the Government does not table “realistic” pay proposals by next week. This could involve 24-hour stoppages in hospitals across the country.

The INMO said it had been informed by management that new employment restictions had been imposed and that only 300 additional staff across all disciplines could be taken for the remainder of this year.

Department of Health sources said while there was no new recruitment moratorium in place, the HSE could not afford to employ nurses at the pace and extent sought by the nursing unions.

Mr Donnelly said the Government would face further pay claims in the health sector and elsewhere “if some groups of workers were to be granted pay benefits beyond those set out in the Public Service Stability agreement”.

He said therapists and other health professionals - who are represented by his union - had “ the highest level of churn in the health service, with the sole exception of consultants”.

“Fórsa will not accept a situation where any profession or grade is treated more favourably than others in the Government’s response to the pay commission’s findings,” he said.