Student Nurses Protest to Defend Wages

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Health, Worker's Rights

Student Nurses Protest Wage Cuts

The recent announcement by the HSE to recruit 1,000 new graduates at 80% of the current salary is a blatant attack on the living standards of essential front line workers. Nursing and midwifery graduates, qualifying in 2009, started on the second point of the salary scale, which was €33,470.  In January 2011, the government imposed a 10% cut to all new entrants into the public sector, which reduced salaries to €28,539. In February 2012, the Department of Health issued a circular directing management to put newly qualified nurses/midwives on the first point of the salary scale which is €27,211. In December 2012, the government announced that they were going to recruit 1,000 newly qualified nurses/midwives on two year contracts at only 80% of the 1st point of the staff nurse salary scale, which equates to €22,000 per year. This means that newly qualified nurses/midwives will have incurred a cut of €11,470 in just three years.   This 34% salary cut is a discriminatory attempt to undermine the working conditions of professional frontline workers.

The government’s rationale for introducing positions for newly qualified nurses/midwives, at this reduced rate is to save money on agency expenditure. However, the HSE would have saved over 54% per post by the simple conversion of agency staff to direct employment and by placing the nursing and midwifery graduates on the agreed starting salary. This very significant saving was apparently not sufficient and the government now appears intent upon imposing this 80% rate even though the new graduate, as a registered nurse/midwife, will carry the full duties and responsibilities of a registered and regulated health professional.

In addition to this the HSE advised local managers by circular on the 14th December 2012, to immediately discontinue all existing contracts already in place for 2012 graduates. This is a blatant attempt to force the individual, by unilaterally terminating a contract, to apply for the same post, doing exactly the same vital work but at 80% of their current salary.   This move is particularly vicious as newly qualified nurses/midwives are already among the lowest paid workers in the health service, and once again it emphasizes the hollowness of government and particularly Labour Party promises to protect frontline services.

A structured graduate placement programme is vital to provide all graduates with work and training, for up to two years, in the health service.   An essential and integral part of such a programme, should be that graduates are paid at the current agreed rate and they would be an additional resource to our understaffed wards.  These cynical attacks on the pay of new graduate nurses/midwives and attempt to sack hundreds of student nurses and force them to reapply for a decreased wage is simply another attempt to make ordinary workers’ pay for the economic crisis.

These attacks must be viewed in the context of an on-going onslaught on the pay and conditions of public service workers.  The announcement this week, by the secretary of the Department of Public Expenditure, confirming that further savings of €300 million in public service pay are on the agenda, is a clear indication that the wages of all public sector workers are yet again under attack.  The Trade Unions must step up now and display solidarity in defending student nurses, a message needs to be sent out that this blatant attack will not be tolerated.