Student nurses protest over pay cuts

Student nurses Louise Perris, Rosanne Murray and members of the INMO protesting against proposed pay reductions with colleagues outside St James’s Hospital yesterday. Demonstrations also took place elsewhere around the State.Photograph: Alan Betson

MARTIN WALL, LOUISE ROSEINGRAVE and KATHRYN HAYES

ABOUT 3,500 student nurses and widwives staged demonstrations in hospitals around the State at lunchtime yesterday in the first stage of a new campaign against Government plans to cut payments.

The Government announced in December that it would phase out and ultimately eliminate payments to student nurses during their 36-week mandatory placement in hospitals in the fourth year of their course.

At present student nurses receive 80 per cent of the minimum point on the pay scale for staff nurses.

Yesterday Fine Gael said it would review urgently the decision to reduce the payments made to student nurses if in government.

Fine Gael health spokesman Dr James Reilly said the party was “sympathetic” to the difficulties faced by student nurses.

Nursing unions are seeking to make the planned cuts an issue in the general election.

The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) is scheduled to meet the Labour Party on the issue today. It has also been in contact with Sinn Féin.

However INMO general secretary Liam Doran said there had been no response to date from Fianna Fáil.

Student nurses and midwives are to hold a march and rally in Dublin next week and have warned of industrial action next month if the cuts are not reversed.

Addressing a demonstration involving a couple of hundred student nurses at St James’s Hospital, Mr Doran said nurses would not vote for parties that did not pledge to reverse the cuts in payments.

He said under the Government’s plans pre-registration nurses and midwives would be the only grade in the public service expected to work for nothing.

He said that in four years when the existing payment for the 36-week placement on the wards was abolished completely the student nurses would be “slaves to the healthcare system”.

He added: “The Government did this without consultation. It is cruel, there is no justification and pre-registration nurses and midwives will not have it.”

Mr Doran said it appeared the decision to cut the payments had been made by the Department of Health and that the Health Service Executive had little or no knowledge about it.

“The basis for it is impossible to fathom. How they can seriously expect that in four years time people are going to work in the front line, with the obligations of being an employee – weekend and night duty – for nothing. As bad a state that the country is in, it is not in that bad a state and we are not going to have it.”

Between 400 and 500 student nurses and midwives took part in protests at Cork University Hospital against the proposed cuts.

Deirdre Maloney (22) from Ballylanders, Co Limerick, said she needed her full pay to rent a room in Cork in order to complete her studies.

“It’s pretty ridiculous, when you think that by 2014 the pay will be so low for a student nurse entering first year that they would earn more on the dole,” she said.

At the Mid Western Regional Hospital in Limerick, more than 150 students joined the picket line for the lunchtime demonstration where they chanted: “No to slave labour!”

Among those attending was mature student Gerard Dunne (55), who fears the planned cuts will mean only the wealthy will be able to pursue a career in nursing.

“I’m lucky I’m a mature student and my children are grown up but for the young people coming up it’s going to act as a real deterrent, especially for the students who are only starting this year because when they are in fourth year they will have no pay at all,” said the third-year student.

The Irish Times – Thursday, February 10, 2011

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