HSE and nurses in talks to avert strike
Government plans to create commission in bid to keep health service functioning
THE Government is to put talks with the nursing unions into a ‘nursing commission’ to help prevent a strike going ahead at the end of the month, the Irish Mail on Sunday can reveal.
Crisis talks are set to continue next week between the trade unions and the HSE, in a bid to avoid the dispute, which would bring Irish hospitals to a standstill.
Members of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) are to stage a 24-hour strike on January 30 in an escalation of their pay dispute.
A Government source told the MoS: ‘The nurses issue is a huge challenge for both the Department of Public Expenditure and the Department of Health. The question is can we avert it before the first day, January 30?
‘There can’t be any offers on pay, because you can’t breach the public service pay agreement.’
The Government would, however, be open to setting up a commission for nursing to put the issues at hand into a ‘process’. The source said: ‘The nurses keep talking about process, a commission on nursing. From our perspective, it is not a bad idea, but will the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform weather it? Will the other unions weather it?
‘Will the Government be able to agree to it, or is that just a way around the public sector pay agreement?’ the source said.
The commission would then look at others ways of giving nurses more money, principally by giving them new tasks.
‘It could look at the future role of nursing. It could look at the grading of nursing and the role of the nurse and how the HSE can be reformed under Sláintecare.
‘In theory that could effectively say if the nurse does more, you’d pay them more. They could take on additional duties.
‘The question is, would the other unions accept that? We have a collective public pay agreement under the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and INMO have signed up to it.’
If agreement can’t be reached, the INMO has threatened further 24-hour strikes to take place on February 5 and 7, and then on the February 12, 13 and 14.
Meanwhile, members of the Psychiatric Nurses Association (PNA) will initially refuse to work overtime on January 31 and February 1, 5, 6 and 7 before escalating to full strikes on February 12, 13, and 14.
PNA General Secretary Peter Hughes told the Irish Mail on Sunday that the union spent the weekend preparing for meetings scheduled for later this week. A contingency meeting will take place tomorrow with the HSE, to coordinate emergency cover in hospitals if a strike goes ahead.
On Tuesday, the unions are expected to get into the ‘nitty gritty’ with the Department of Health and the HSE concerning issues which have given rise to the action.
Mr Hughes wouldn’t reveal what offer would be acceptable at this stage of negotiations.
He said the PNA is expecting a ‘robust proposal’ and added: ‘We have to wait and see what is put on the table. The HSE and the department are well aware that we’re looking for parity with the therapy grades so we just have to wait and see what they have.’
He said: ‘We’ve no indications of what they have to offer. We have shown our intent, so now we have to wait.’
Officials from the PNA’s 40 branches will also be holding a national executive meeting on Friday to coordinate strike plans.
Meanwhile, INMO had its first contingency meeting on Friday with the HSE but said there was ‘nothing to announce from it’ as it was the ‘very first’ they’ve had.
INMO will be forming local strike committees to coordinate action at individual hospitals.
A union spokesman said: ‘No nurse or midwife wants to go on strike. But we’ve been driven to this position, after years of understaffing.
‘The HSE simply cannot recruit enough nurses and midwives on these wages. There are now four nursing vacancies for every nurse looking for one. Patient care is being compromised.
‘Unless the Government acts, the health service will go from bad to worse, especially this winter.
‘The Government can stop the strike. The first step is accepting there is a problem, then they have to meet with us and work out a fair solution.’
‘You can’t breach public service pay agreement’ ‘We have to wait to see what is on the table’
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