Nurses may be paid bigger allowances to end strikes

Increases to allowances paid to nurses are being examined in the Labour Court as a solution to prevent further strikes.

The move would be major compromise on the Government side after weeks of insisting it would not bow to the nurses’ pay demands.

Industrial relations talks have intensified in recent days as the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) plans three days of strike action this week.

Last night, senior INMO figures along with high-ranking officials from the Department of Health and Department of Public Expenditure and Reform were locked in Labour Court talks. Irish Congress of Trade Unions president Patricia King was also involved in the negotiations.

“For the first time, people are working really hard on all sides to resolve this,” a well-placed source said.

It is understood all sides are working toward finding a solution within the terms of the current public sector pay deal. Talks are due to continue at 12.30pm today, Sunday. Strike preparations for the week ahead will continue today too.

This could result in a two-part solution which would see a long-term process established to address pay and conditions while more immediate non-pay related compromises are also being discussed. This includes looking at allowances paid to nurses. “There are lots of ways nurses could be supported that are not direct pay,” a source said.

In a potent show of support, tens of thousands of people attended a rally in Dublin city centre yesterday in support of nurses.

The Psychiatric Nurses Association (PNA) has escalated its campaign of industrial action over pay and staffing issues and announced three further 24-hour work stoppages later this month in addition to this week’s action.

Last Friday the HSE expressed concern to the Government over patient safety if 40,000 INMO and PNA members walk out on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

During yesterday’s rally nurses said they had reached “crisis point”.

The group marched from the Garden of Remembrance on Parnell Square to Government Buildings. They are calling for pay parity to bring nurses’ salaries in line with other health professionals.

Fiona Leahy, who works as a nurse in Limerick, said her colleagues were at breaking point. “Things are unsafe, we don’t have enough nurses to care for the patients,” she said. “I think the Government are hoping that the longer this goes on, the public might not be with us. But the public has been amazing so far, so I just hope that support stays.”

A Dublin-based nurse said hospitals were understaffed due to the pay and conditions.

“We need more nurses. The fact is we can’t get them in and we can’t get them to stay,” said the woman, who identified herself only as Roisin.

“I love nursing but it’s becoming incredibly difficult. We’re crying out for even agency staff but that’s even drying up.”

INMO president Martina Harkin-Kelly stressed that those involved in the rally would rather be at work, but she added that the treatment of nurses and midwives needed to improve if the standard of care was to improve.

“Nurses and midwives are united and the public stand with us. Now it’s time for the Government to make serious proposals to avert more strikes,” she said.

INMO general secretary Phil Ni Sheaghdha said that in 2019 there were no further arguments left to deny nurses and midwives equal pay.

“Equal pay for nurses with other graduates is something we have strived for, is something that we seek and it’s something that we intend to get. Because without it, nursing and midwifery will still be considered a little bit of a vocation and a little bit of ‘girls going to work’ and girls just not having the right to stand up for themselves,” she said.

In a speech at the rally, PNA general secretary Peter Hughes said that, by 2021, 34pc of psychiatric nurses in the State would be eligible for retirement. He added that as many as 3,000 children were on waiting lists for first-time mental health assessments, saying this was “a national disgrace”. Minister Simon Harris reiterated the Government’s willingness to engage to end the dispute.

A spokesman said the minister was urging all parties to continue to work as hard as possible to reach a resolution.

Yesterday, speaking on the Marian Finucane radio show, former HSE director general Tony O’Brien said he held “pride” in the “tremendous work” of nurses but that the health service was the “wrong shape” and that the nurses were striking because no “meaningful engagement” had been offered by the HSE.

“Our system is upside down. For years we’ve prioritised hospitals over primary care,” he said. “I’m concerned that the most important medical relationship, which is our GP, is not necessarily going to be a relationship that people have in the future.”

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