Táim ag cur ceiste inniu ar an Tánaiste i dtaobh an phá d'altraí atá ag traenáil agus iad ag obair ar an líne thosaigh sna hotharlanna ar fud an Stáit seo. Is iad seo altraí atá ag cur a saol i mbaol ar ár son - fuair cuid mhór acu an víreas Covid-19 agus d'fhulaing siad agus rinne siad íobairtí móra ar ár son. Is iad seo altraí freisin nach gcreideann an Rialtas gur fiú pá a thabhairt dóibh. Nuair a amharcaimid ar an dóigh a dhéileálann an Rialtas seo le pá d'altraí atá ag traenáil, cífimid nach bhfuil dílseacht ar bith ag an Rialtas dóibh sin atá ag obair ar an líne thosaigh. Throughout this pandemic and long before it, our nurses and midwives have been our heroes and the heroes of our health service. Since the outbreak of the virus they have put their own health and the health of their families at risk. That has not deterred them from serving the Irish people. A number of healthcare workers have tragically lost their lives in doing so. With more than 3,000 health workers having contracted the virus during this period, and with our hospitals and health services put under pressure like never before, student nurses and midwives have stepped up and into the breach. They have served their patients, worked alongside hospital staff and provided excellent care in difficult circumstances. The Irish people are proud of them and of their service. They have been taken for granted by the Government.
Last night, the Government voted against a motion to pay student nurses and midwives for the work they do. Many of these student nurses and midwives are asked to work for no pay. That is not good enough. Nobody other than the Government believes it is good enough. It will not be lost on the public that at the same time that these workers are being asked to go without pay as they work on the front line, Deputies in this House have been offered two pay rises in the last year on top of their very generous salaries. What message does that send out to front-line workers, to our student nurses and midwives and to the Irish people? Student nurses and midwives, like all those on the front line, have kept our health services together. The patients in our hospitals who receive care from our student nurses do not see them as student nurses but rightly see them as the people at the end or side of their beds who are caring for them, helping them to recuperate and providing them with the essential services. Hospital managers, consultants and specialists would not have been able to do their jobs if they had not been supported by these student nurses.
Student nurses and midwives are not being paid and no one can stand over this. The reality is that these student nurses and midwives are being taken advantage of, exploited and taken for granted. They deserve so much more. They do not need claps, slogans or platitudes but they deserve to be paid. We asked them to go to the front line to put their lives and their families’ health at risk, and to step up, so the least that can be done is that they are rewarded with decent and fair pay. The Irish people cannot understand why the Tánaiste and his Government are against pay for student nurses at the time of a pandemic and a time when they have stepped up to serve the Irish people and their patients. The payment of the student nurses is a litmus test for this Government and of this Government’s commitment to fairness for front-line workers. It tells us so much about what this Government stands for and whose side it is on.
My question for the Tánaiste is simple. Will he revisit the issue and change the Government’s decision to ensure that student nurses in their first, second and third years should be paid and that other nurses should be paid fairly?