Ailin Quinlan: Old guard quids in, but young student nurses are still unpaid

Why can’t the government come up with some sort of straightforward and fair regulation — that all students on college work placements are paid a basic wage by their employer while on placement, says Ailin Quinlan in her weekly column
Ailin Quinlan: Old guard quids in, but young student nurses are still unpaid

CARING PROFESSION: But one student nurse said they were being “treated like dirt on the bottom of someone’s shoe”

UNFAIR is nowhere near an adequate description. 

Desperately unjust is more like it.

Let me put it this way.

They’re increasing the pay of judges (many of whom are male) and already extremely well paid.

They’re reversing pension cuts to retired taoisigh, ministers and top civil servants who were in office during the economic crash, and many of whom, needless to say, are also mature well-paid males.

Meanwhile, they’re refusing to pay student nurses (mostly young, female and not that well-off) for their mandatory college work placements.

A college placement officially involves students shadowing qualified nurses for educational training in hospitals. But, I’m told, student nurses often do a lot more than simply shadowing, and can, in fact, work quite hard.

In our house, one of the young adults, a male, studied engineering and was paid for his college work placements. Quite handsomely too, as I recall.

Another, a female, is a student nurse. She has never been paid for work placements, despite the travel and accommodation costs involved.

Student nurses in first, second and third year are obliged to do unpaid clinical placement as part of their training. On average, third year general nursing students complete around 740 hours of unpaid placement in the academic year.

By not paying student nurses for their placements, the government and the health system is putting a financial squeeze on them to go out and actually earn money as healthcare assistants, despite the risk of Covid-19 infection.

It’s depressing and infuriating that our male-dominated government is so concerned about looking after already extremely well-paid, and well-set-up mature men (and, undoubtedly, some women) while bluntly refusing to pay these thousands of young female nurses for their work experience.

As has been pointed out, many of these are under pressure to go out and work in situations that could potentially result in Covid-19 cross-contamination.

They do agency work, which basically involves working part-time for nursing agencies or in nursing homes, usually as healthcare assistants (HCAs).

HCAs perform more basic tasks than are required from students on placement — such as helping patients with washing and dressing — and they are paid for it.

Yet in its usual psychopathically disingenuous way, the HSE claims (despite clearly forcing the young women into this situation) that it ‘does not support’ the idea of student nurses working in multiple settings due to the risk of infection of Covid.

One young student nurse was quoted as saying that, on top of doing 36 hours a week on her college placement, she and others do two paid shifts at the weekend, so they’re clocking up to 60 hours’ work a week.

I noted an interesting comment by one 22-year-old student nurse, who said student nurses were “consistently exploited and treated like dirt on the bottom of someone’s shoe”.

Why can’t the government come up with some sort of straightforward and fair regulation — that all students on college work placements are paid a basic wage by their employer while on placement, whether this employer is a private law or engineering firm or the HSE or Department of Education?

******

Well, we know now what the phrase ‘snowflake generation’ means.

I’m not a supporter of Sinn Féin, but I can’t help liking Mary Lou McDonald, at least a bit, for her achievements.

And I feel that the incident where a young Sinn Fein activist resigned after a party member had the apparent temerity to call to her door about some tweets she had sent (instead of, like, messaging her on an online platform or something?) reflects the sheer preciousness of so many modern 20-somethings.

The young woman in question, a member of UCD Ógra Sinn Féin, resigned from the party after a Sinn Féin member called to her house to say she was to delete tweets that were critical of the party. She was also apparently told not to discuss internal issues in public.

Personally — and please feel free to stand me up against a wall and shoot me or to send the online trolls in my direction — I don’t see much wrong with any of that.

They all know each other don’t they? They’re all in the same party and the same geographic area, roughly, anyway?

Isn’t it a bit much to go running to the media about it?

According to Mary Lou, all that really happened was that a person who was well known to everyone in this cumann called to a young activist’s home.

This was not, she emphasised, a case of some anonymous unknown figure landing at anyone’s door.

Not only did the young activist know the person in question, but the caller was “a local person who is known to all of the members and was elected to the position that they hold”.

Mary Lou said she herself “wouldn’t think twice” about knocking on a cumann member’s door.

Ah, but Mary Lou, Mary Lou, Mary Lou, you haven’t grown up in a generation where nobody says anything to anybody face-to-face.

Some snowflakes, I’ve heard, will decline phone calls from somebody they “know but don’t know” if you’re up to date enough to know what that means.

I’m not entirely sure myself, but then, like Mary Lou, I hail from a cultural Stone Age when human beings actually called around to each other’s houses and said things to each other face-to-face.

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