Irish nurses in UK show solidarity with striking nurses in Ireland

Colin Gannon

Better work conditions and pay would convince many emigrant nurses from Ireland working in the UK to return home, Irish nurses suggested last week.

Scores of Irish nurses and midwives gathered in London last weekend to show “solidarity” with the major nursing strike action due to take place in Ireland tomorrow.

The group met to support the campaign of almost fifty-thousand nurses in Ireland who are set to strike for 24 hours on 30 January in a dispute over pay and terms.

Talks between the Irish Nurses and Midwives Association (INMO) and the Psychiatric Nurses Association (PSA) and the government collapsed last Friday.

It was hoped that the negotiations, facilitated by the Workplace Relations Commission, would have avoided industrial action.

Members of INMO and the PSA voted overwhelmingly for strike action. The unions argue that a shortage of nurses is impacting on patients and staff.

The union is calling for a 12 per cent pay increase. The proposed rise in pay would bring nurses into line with other health professionals like physiotherapists.

“Ireland’s nurses and midwives are asking simple questions. Where is the Taoiseach? Where is the Minister for Finance? There is a vacuum of political leadership,” said INMO General Secretary, Phil Ní Sheaghdha, last week.

“The largest strike in the health service’s history looms and our political leaders are nowhere to be seen.”

HSE brief on INMO Industrial Action. Pictured is Angela Fitzgerald, National Director, Acute Hospitals HSE at a HSE press briefing in Dublin today, providing advice to the public ahead of the Irish Nurses & Midwives Organisation industrial action tomorrow. Photograph: Leah Farrell / RollingNews.ie

The union said it would be only the second national strike in its 100-year history.

A small, peaceful gathering took place last Saturday afternoon at Parliament Square in London as UK-based Irish nurses and midwives came together to signal their support for the strike action.

A Facebook event created the week prior to the meeting – titled ‘Irish Nurses & Midwives – The Irish in London support you!’ – garnered over 200 attendances within a week.

Amy Kearney, one of the gathering’s main organisers, said that she was motivated to replicate the “unbelievable” scenes she had seen online in Australia.

“It’s important to stand in solidarity with our fellow nurses and midwives at home. We want them to know they are not alone, that we all agree they deserve so much more and are right to fight for that,” she said.

Due to the uncertainty of Brexit is causing, Ms Kearney said that many UK-based nurses from Ireland and elsewhere in Europe would consider moving to Ireland for work if work conditions improved.

“To have the option of working at home with better conditions and fair pay in place would be amazing and would entice many of us to come back to Ireland,” she added.

Earlier this month, more than 250 Irish nurses gathered at the Sydney Opera House on Saturday to urge the Irish government to increase pay and “give us a reason to come home”.

Irish nurse Laura Phillips said the pay in Ireland is “not competitive” and that hundreds of Irish-trained nurses working in Australia will not come home until salaries improve.

Photo: Sam Boal/Rollingnews.ie

The HSE has said it had concerns about the scale of the planned 24-hour work stoppage by nearly 40,000 nurses across hospitals and in the community, as well as about the number of services that would be affected.

The planned strike by members of the INMO will be the first in a series of six scheduled work stoppages in the weeks ahead as part of a dispute over pay and staffing issues.

Temple Street and Cappagh National Orthopaedic are among Dublin hospitals that have started rescheduling elective procedures and appointments scheduled for January 30.

St James’s Hospital has advised patients that if the strike proceeds, consultations will be rescheduled. All services would be “severely impacted” by a walkout, it said.

INMO President Martina Harkin-Kelly said: “We entered these professions because we care for our patients. We’ll be going on strike for the exact same reason. Ireland’s patients deserve better than this understaffed health service.

“Nurses and midwives are now globally traded assets. The public health service no longer pays a competitive wage, so we can no longer get the necessary number of nurses and midwives.”

Last year, the Public Service Pay Commission in the Republic of Ireland rejected an across-the-board pay rise, opting instead for a €20m (£17.9m) package of allowances targeting areas where shortages are worst.

The government has repeatedly insisted that it could not deliver a 12 per cent pay increase as it would cost about €300m (£270m).

However, the INMO insists that their demands can be met within the framework of the current public service pay agreement.


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