Nurses' deal opens door to public pay free-for-all

The strike by 40,000 nurses is over – but the price of the deal may be a flood of pay claims from other unions.

The largest public-sector union Fórsa said it would “study the detail” of the recommendation “and any implications it may have for other civil and public service grades”.

If members of the nurses’ union INMO vote in favour of the deal agreed at the Labour Court yesterday, a significant number of nurses stand to receive an increase of up to 7pc in their pay.

Health services will return to normal today but for some of the thousands of patients whose surgery, clinic appointments or day services were expected to be cancelled there will continue to be disruption.

Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe insisted the deal struck with the nurses’ union did not breach the national wage agreement.

However, more industrial strife is in the offing for the Government.

Meanwhile, hundreds of family doctors are now threatening to use their surgeries to lobby patients to vote against Government ­parties.

Mr Donohoe insisted the deal did not breach the public service national wage agreement – but he declined to say how much it would cost.

“I know that many other unions will be considering this issue. It is more appropriate for me to speak on that matter once I have briefed Cabinet first,” he said.

It is understood that the deal includes “self-funding” measures aimed at preventing a breach of the wage agreement.

The Labour Court recommendation agrees to an enhanced “nurse practice” salary scale, which will be rolled out, starting at €35,806 and rising to €47,201, following a long service increment.

It appears that some of the incremental points on this scale are about €2,000 higher than the existing staff nurses’ scale.

When nurses will qualify to move on to a new scale, after four years, they will receive a pay rise of over 7pc.

The proposal states a new nursing contract should be finalised within three weeks.

The contract will see more nurses moved into the community as part of the Sláintecare plan, which aims to take work from overcrowded hospitals and support more patients with long-term conditions nearer home.

They will also support measures to increase the number of healthcare assistants.

Staff nurses “with certain qualifications” will be offered the opportunity to move to the new salary scale from March 1.

The revised new entrant proposals will be watched closely by teachers in particular, who are demanding improvements on this existing deal to address two-tier pay.

The court document states that nurses will skip point two on their incremental pay scales.

Other public servants are already due to jump past point four and eight on their scales to make up for being on lower pay since 2011.

The Labour Court notesd that the employer recognised that other parties to the public sector pay deal “may wish to explore possibilities of this nature within the available financial allocations”.

However, it said these considerations were outside its remit.

The recommendation states that an expert review of the nursing profession will be set up and report at the end of this pay deal.

The main public service unions have already indicated that they will study the court’s proposal in detail to see if there are implications for their members.

The largest public-sector union Fórsa said it would “study the detail” of the recommendation “and any implications it may have for other civil and public service grades”.

“We expect that other unions will do the same, and that the Ictu Public Services Committee will consider the matter in due course,” it added.

Paul Bell of Siptu – whose nursing members did not back the industrial action – said he understood the parties to the proposals had “seen” that the public service agreement would not be breached. “Thousands of public servants right across the economy will wait and see what the court has to say about the Public Service Stability Agreement and if that agreement will remain intact,” he added.

The Labour Court recommendation makes progress across all areas of concern to the INMO, including the key areas of safe staffing and addressing recruitment and retention problems.

INMO general secretary Phil Ní Sheaghdha said: “There is still more negotiation to be done, but we are at a point where we believe strikes can be suspended.

“Members will be kept fully informed and will have the final say in a ballot.”

Meanwhile, thousands of patients are expected to face confusion about the resumption of services in hospitals and the community today.

The HSE said: “We expect outpatient appointments to go ahead as planned and advise anyone with an appointment for today, tomorrow or Thursday to attend.

“We are advising surgical patients that they will be contacted by their hospital if their procedure is going ahead.”

A&Es are expected to be busy and minor injury units will be operating as normal.

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