Nurses meet to plan strikes as Government signals no concessions

Minister for Finance says acceding demands would ‘take us back to the bad old days’

Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe said acceding to the nurses’ pay demands would “take us back to the bad old days of unsustainable and unaffordable pay rises”. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe said acceding to the nurses’ pay demands would “take us back to the bad old days of unsustainable and unaffordable pay rises”. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

 

The leadership of a nurses’ union is to meet today to discuss a series of 24-hour strikes amid growing signs of hardening attitudes in Government towards their pay demands.

The executive of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) is gathering over the next two days to discuss its plans for work stoppages in the coming weeks following an overwhelming vote in favour of strike action by its members before Christmas in support of their pay claim.

However, speaking to journalists this weekend, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said the Government would not reopen the pay agreement it has with all public servants to give a special deal to the nurses.

Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe, writing in the Sunday Business Post, said that acceding to the nurses’ pay demands would “take us back to the bad old days of unsustainable and unaffordable pay rises with disastrous consequences for the public finances and, ultimately, taxpayers”.

Mr Varadkar said any extra money this year would be used to protect sectors where jobs are vulnerable because of Brexit. He said he understood the “depth of feeling” among nurses but stressed that the Government would not deviate from the pay deal in place with the public-sector unions.

“They voted by a very large margin in favour of industrial action. It’s important that we engage with all three of the nursing unions – the INMO, the PNA and Siptu, which hasn’t balloted to strike. I’d like to see that happen. Perhaps we can avoid a strike in that way,” he said.

Follow-up demands

Senior Government figures say that there is a strong feeling in Government Buildings that the administration will have to hang tough in the upcoming dispute with the nurses – not least because other unions would immediately follow with their own pay claims if the Government acceded to the nurses’ demands.

It means that the Government is facing strikes by more than 40,000 nurses in the coming weeks. There are also potential industrial relations difficulties on the horizon involving teachers, healthcare assistants and other hospital staff.

The leadership of the Psychiatric Nurses Association (PNA) will meet on Thursday to discuss their options for industrial action.

Custom and practice in the health service would suggest any such stoppages would not take place before the beginning of February given the requirement to serve notice. Legally the unions could take industrial action seven days after making their decisions next week.

The unions will have to decide on whether, for example, all nurses will strike on the same day or whether there should be rolling strikes in different parts of the country. As part of the strikes, INMO members would withdraw their labour but would continue to provide emergency and life-saving care.

The INMO has sought pay parity with groups such as physiotherapists and speech and language therapists. They argue that their members are paid about €7,000 a year less than staff in therapy grades but work more hours.

In September the Government proposed, on foot of recommendations from the Public Service Pay Commission, a €20 million package of measures to tackle recruitment and retention problems. This was decisively rejected by the INMO and PNA.