HSE and nurses in talks to avert strike

Gov­ern­ment plans to cre­ate com­mis­sion in bid to keep health ser­vice func­tion­ing

The Irish Mail on Sunday - - NEWS - By Claire Scott and John Lee [email protected]­sun­day.ie

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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