Nurses & Midwives’ deal: Return to pickets is key to victory

By Councillor Michael O’Brien

As we go to press the Labour Court has issue its second recommendation on the settlement of the nurses and midwives struggle for pay parity with the therapeutic grades and pay equality for new entrants.

The strike days in February were clearly having an impact. The original Labour Court recommendation was issued in a rush to avert three further scheduled days that would have had the government and HSE on the ropes. This could have yielded a more clear-cut and favourable outcome.

Cynical manoeuvre

What took place in subsequent weeks further proved that the recommendation, which contained deliberate loose ends, was a cynical manoeuvre to break the momentum of the action. The late demand for the amendment of contracts to provide for redeployment up to 40Km in the same that led to a breakdown which should have set the scene for a return to the pickets. It was an error on the part of the INMO to have run with information meetings in advance of all details of the offer being thrashed out fully.

Instead weeks were wasted before this recommendation was issued which has a vaguer formulation about deployment and seeks to enforce the Organisation of Working Time Act on nurses who supplement their income by doing additional agency work. The fact that there are nurses working more than the allowable maximum of 48 hours per week in the first place is a testament to poor pay and the cost of living crisis.

Temporary and disguised parity

The original recommendation which is preserved in large measure in this second one, while recommended by the INMO leadership fell short in any case. In essence, the offer amounted to a form of temporary and disguised ‘parity’ with the therapeutic grades. Temporary in the sense that if the therapeutic grades themselves win any future claims from the HSE there is no automatic linking of those claims to the pay of nurses and midwives i.e. the differentials could be restored.

Disguised, in the sense that rather than headline pay parity the proposal was for the gap in pay to be closed though allowances which many members feel are less secure than core pay.

The other reservation expressed was that the therapeutic grades enjoy a greater rate of promotions in their career than nurses and midwives.

The demand for full undisguised parity with the therapeutic grades and an end to two tier pay is justified and winnable. That means rejection of this offer and a return to the pickets which will be a nightmare for this government with local and European elections on the horizon. Common cause, in the form of protests and united strike action, should be made with other public service workers in the health sector and beyond for real cost of living increases.