Ireland’s nurses and midwives are set to bring hospitals in Portlaoise and elsewhere to a standstill with the announcement of a series of strike days over pay.
The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation has given notice of industrial action on January 30. Should the dispute go unresolved, there will be further 24-hour strikes February 5,7, 12,13,14.
The strike will see INMO members withdraw their labour for 24 hours, providing only lifesaving care and emergency response teams.
Nurses say the dispute centres on understaffing in the public health service which they blame on poor wages. The HSE has not been able to recruit and retain enough nurses and midwives on current wages.
While the Minister for Health Simon Harris insisted that the dispute is not warranted he said an invitation to talks would be issued. His Department also claim that the Public Service Stability Agreement which nurses have signed up to prohibits industrial action.
This would be only the second national strike in the INMO’s hundred-year history.
INMO General Secretary Phil Ní Sheaghdha said low wages mean there are not enough nurses to deliver safe care.
“Going on strike is the last thing a nurse or midwife wants to do. But the crisis in recruitment and retention has made it impossible for us to do our jobs properly. We are not able to give patients the care they deserve under these conditions.
“The HSE simply cannot recruit enough nurses and midwives on these wages. Until that changes, the health service will continue to go understaffed and patient care will be compromised.
“The ball is in the government’s court. This strike can be averted. All it takes is for the Government to acknowledge our concerns, engage with us directly, and work to resolve this issue, in a pro-active manner.
“We were due to meet with the government in the national oversight body in December, but the meeting was cancelled. Like many patients in Ireland’s health service, we are still waiting for an appointment.”
INMO President Martina Harkin-Kelly said nurses entered the profession because we care for our patients.
"We’ll be going on strike for the exact same reason. Ireland’s patients deserve better than this understaffed health service.
“Nurses and midwives are now globally traded assets. The public health service no longer pays a competitive wage, so we can no longer get the necessary number of nurses and midwives.
“We are calling on the public to support us. Nurses and midwives are always there for you when you need help. Now we need your help,” she said.
In a statement, the Minister for Health, Simon Harris, noted the decision of the executive of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation. The Minister does not believe that industrial action is warranted and could be avoided.
The Minister believes there is a clear need for engagement and it is essential that the time is used by all sides to find a resolution to this dispute. In that context, health sector management will invite the INMO to meet with them next week.
The Department said that in 2017, the Government concluded an overall Public Service Stability Agreement with public sector unions which sees very significant increases in public service pay, including for nurses.
It says that in line with that Agreement, in September 2018, the Public Service Pay Commission concluded a review in respect of key health service grades, including nurses.
The Department also says that the Public Service Pay Commission recommendations would see Specialist Qualification and Location Allowances for nurses increased by 20% and would see them extended to nurses working in maternity services.
In addition, the Commission recommended that eligibility requirements for Senior Staff Nurse /Midwife be reduced from 20 to 17 years.
However, it says these recommendations, with a value of approximately €20m, have been rejected by the INMO and the PNA.
The Department of Health says the Government has also made proposals to address new entrant pay which will benefit approximately 10,000 nurses to the value of around €3,000 each.
"It is clear that these measures would improve the overall pay package for the majority of nurses and midwives. They show that the Public Service Stability Agreement and the related negotiation process are delivering significant improvements for nurses.
"Both the INMO and the PNA are signed up to the PSSA and under this agreement, industrial action is prohibited," concluded the statement.