That Dáil Éireann: notes that:
— nurses and midwives have taken industrial action to end wage restraint, lack of pay parity and against the working conditions they are faced with;
— there is a crisis in recruitment and retention of nurses and midwives as a result of pay and conditions they are faced with;
— like all workers, nurses and midwives have seen a massive rise in the cost of living, such as childcare, rent and housing generally;
— there is considerable support and solidarity for nurses and midwives as a result of ordinary people’s direct experiences of the health service;
— paramedics have taken strike action seeking recognition of their union, the National Ambulance Service Representative Association (NASRA);
— there is enormous wealth in our society and yet our health service is being starved of resources, resulting in nurses and midwives being underpaid;
— €270 million was used to pay Anglo Irish Bank junior bondholders in December 2018;
— BAM Ireland, the construction company that is building the new children’s hospital, saw its turnover rise by 28 per cent in 2017 to €465 million, while its pre-tax profits for that year were €15.9 million; and
— Ireland’s richest 300 people have €79 billion in wealth;
— there is a need to reverse austerity measures that have hit the health service;
— there is a need for a national health service that is free at the point of use and under the democratic control of working class people;
— a victory for nurses and midwives in this strike would be a victory for all workers and our health service;
— strike action by nurses and midwives has demonstrated the effectiveness of strike action in seeking just and necessary pay increases and improvements to working conditions;
— the recommendations from the Labour Court on 11th February, 2019, which are supported by Government, fall short of the demands of nurses and midwives in their dispute; and
— if this offer is rejected, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions must give full support for the nurses so that the struggle can be brought to a quick but satisfactory outcome; and
calls on the Government to recognise NASRA as the representative union of their members and to accede to the full pay demands of nurses and midwives.
The motion deals with the pay and conditions of nurses, midwives and paramedics. Many messages have been circulating online and on the picket lines from nurses and midwives about why they were brought to take the unprecedented step of national strike action. One woman who has been a nurse for five years wrote:
The education and respect that I got in the NHS when I emigrated was second to none. They constantly wanted progression for their nurses and even offered to pay for funding of college courses so we could up our skills. Unfortunately, I made the silly decision to move home, which to this day I deeply regret. I have been forced to move back with my parents, which was a difficult decision to make. I will never be able to afford a mortgage. I worked four long years in university to be where I am today. Why can't we have pay parity with other professionals we work alongside? Why can't the Government respect us?
That sums up many of the reasons and sentiments we heard throughout the last couple of weeks.
The INMO in its 100 years of existence has only twice waged a national strike. It is quite an unbelievable circumstance and shows the urgency of the issue. It is anathema to nurses to have to leave behind the patients they know to go on a picket line. It shows how far they have been pushed and how low they have been allowed to go by this Government.
For weeks we listened to the Government saying there was no money for nurses. For weeks it even said there was no recruitment and retention crisis at all, and it was a figment of the INMO's imagination. It then said it was not due to pay and that pay would probably not make any more nurses want to stay in the country where their families and friends are. In just three days of industrial action, however - this should be registered by anyone watching this debate or interested in this issue - the INMO achieved more than the rest of the trade union leadership did for their members in years, in the sense that an offer is on the table, which is obviously an improvement on the current situation.
The question nurses will be asking is whether it is a fundamental change and what nurses deserve, or is it the Government continuing to abuse the goodwill of nurses. There is no question that the Government was absolutely desperate to avoid three more days of strike this week.
It witnessed the significant public sympathy there is for the nurses. It also saw the massive demonstration that took place on Saturday It is unusual to have 40,000 to 50,000 people marching to defend workers. It was primarily the INMO and members of the public who use the health service who mobilised. It was people who know what it is like to be on waiting lists, who know what it is like to wait in accident and emergency departments and who see where the Government is spending public money and that it encourages private healthcare.
As we speak, nurses and midwives are getting information about the pay offer and they will have time to consider it. We tabled this motion before the deal was offered but it is still a major issue. Nurses will ask whether the offer provides pay parity and pay restoration and if it will stop the brain drain relating to young, qualified nurses. They want to know whether the wards will be safer and whether the pay offer will pay the rent or buy a house. We have been getting some feedback from nurses on pay parity. Perhaps the Minister could clarify the position. On paper, it can appear that there is parity with other therapists and grades, which has been sought by nurses. However, pay for nurses is heavily dependent upon an allowance. As we saw during the recession, the first thing to be taken off workers were allowances. We saw it with teachers and other professionals. A bank manager does not count an allowance as part of a person's wage. In addition, allowances do not always apply to every group. There are questions about whether it will apply to community nurses, those in outpatient departments and others. Another key issue is that occupational therapists and physiotherapists, with whom nurses are seeking parity, usually progress to become senior occupational therapists or physiotherapists but there is no such progression, even in this offer, for nurses. They will still remain on the same pay scale.
The Minister should feel ashamed about embarrassed about staff nurses' pay. In 2008, the starting point for a staff nurse was €31,875 and the scale went up to €46,541. Following this deal, the starting point is still €29,346, which is lower than 2008, and now the highest one can go on the enhanced scale is €45,841. Despite winning better pay, it seems that nurses still do not have full pay restoration, which they should have, in the context of what was taken from them during the recession.
Another matter of concern is the productivity that will be demanded of nurses. The general response of nurses is to comment on the cheek of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Donohoe, to state that they must qualify to go on the scale when they have given all they can give. It shows the response of the Government to the idea of workers having a recovery. The Government boasts about the economy being in recovery and being one of the best performing in Europe. However, it is not happy for workers to get back what was taken away. We constantly hear in the media that there is no money or wealth available, that there is just a little pie for the health service and that if nurses and paramedics get an increase, then something else will have to go in the health service. We completely and utterly reject that concept. There is a large pie of untapped and untaxed resources in this economy. We have the €14.3 billion sitting untouched in the Apple account. We are informed that the cost of the Labour Court recommendations will be €35 million in a full year, but the Apple money would pay that 400 times over 400 years. What greater demonstration is there of the Government working hand in hand with Apple to protect that company's interests?
Meanwhile, in terms of the cost of living for workers, the average rent nationally is €1,347. In Dublin, it is €1,800. The average rent in Waterford has gone up 16%, in Galway by 13% and in Limerick by 17%. That is what any wage increase has to compete with. In terms of wages, the average weekly earnings for workers in the health sector was €796 in 2008 and today it is €720. Workers will look at the example of what the nurses have been given and act accordingly.
There will be a debate on the national children's hospital. Let us contrast what has been spent on it and how the purse strings have been opened in comparison to the treatment of the nurses. On every single picket line when I got into a conversation with nurses the question of gender was invariably raised. Phil Ní Sheaghdha raised the point on the demonstration of whether they are so shoddily treated because they are women workers. I have no doubt we will see the Minister talk about the advancement of women on 8 March, International Women's Day, but this is the gender pay gap in action and how it works. That is what happens if one decimates the wages of female dominated professions such as nursing, teaching and many others in the public sector. The Minister has to answer for that.
I wish to refer to paramedics because they are still in dispute with the Government. They have demanded to join a union of their choice, not of the Minister's choice. It is meant to be a right of workers to use whatever organisation or union it wishes to negotiate on their behalf, but it seems that the Government would rather pick unions they consider tame or under its influence or control. Ambulance workers, paramedics, nurses and midwives are in the Gallery. The Minister has just come into the House. Workers should be allowed to join a union of their choice. The HSE must be directed by the Minister to recognise NASRA as the union of choice to negotiate on behalf of those workers.
Nurses will assess in the coming days whether this deal goes as far as they wish. If they decide that it does not, on the basis that it does not provide for pay restoration and pay parity and it is not what they made the sacrifices for, and if they decide to vote "No" to the agreement, the entire trade union leadership and movement must get behind the nurses for their sake as workers but also for the sake of the health service. It must mobilise and support them completely, and not leave them standing on their own, to end austerity throughout the public sector and also to bring up the wages of all workers. It is time for a recovery after a decade of austerity.