NURSES and midwives say they are “riled up and ready for more strike action” following threats from the Government that planned salary rises and pension increases under the existing pay deal could be frozen for taking part in strikes.
Almost 40,000 nurses and midwives around Ireland, including hundreds across Cork, took to the streets on Wednesday to highlight pay disparity and poor working conditions in the health sector.
With further strike action planned next week, the Government has confirmed that officials from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform will “legally consider” imposing penalties for industrial action.
Cork nurse Margaret Frahill, who is on the executive council of the Irish Nurses and Midwives’ Organisation, responded to the threat, saying: “If anything, people are even more riled up.
"We will be out next Tuesday and Thursday in force once again, maybe even stronger.
“We expected these types of threats and we knew the risks but the threats certainly won’t deter us,” she added.
In the Dáil yesterday, Tánaiste Simon Coveney confirmed that the Government was taking legal advice about their available options
“We are taking legal advice about the options that are available to us consistent with the (public sector) pay agreement.
“There is a responsibility on the Government to deliver on that.
“There is also responsibility on the unions and their leadership to fulfil on those obligations and that is what protects Ireland in terms of industrial peace.”
Mr Coveney said the Government understands the “frustration and resolve” of nurses.
“We want to be working with nurses and with the INMO to build a better health service that can attract many young people into this profession,” he added.
“While some progress has been made in relation to recruitment in the last five years, we do recognise the challenges around health recruitment generally.
“That is why the Government set up a public sector pay commission to look into health care and nursing specifically to make recommendations which I know the INMO haven’t been happy with.”
If imposed, the penalties could see pay rises and pension increases under the existing pay deal frozen.
The Public Service Pay Commission (PSPC), in a report published last August, said that pay was not the main issue impacting the recruitment and retention of nurses and midwives.
However, it recommended a 20% increase in the Location and Qualification Allowances, while also making them available to maternity services on the same basis as they apply to the other service areas.
The €20 million plan will see a 25% increase in the wages of a newly qualified staff nurse, a 19% increase for slightly more experienced staff nurses, and an increase of around €4,000 for a newly promoted clinical midwife manager, the Government has said.
Ms Frahill, however, said the PSPC plan does not go far enough to support the majority of nurses, claiming that some will not receive these benefits.