Nurses Considering New NIB Proposals

Nursing unions have called off a planned escalation of industrial action, which was to have involved two-hour work stoppages at all health facilities. The Health Service Executive, the Irish Nurses Organisation and the Minister for Health, Mary Harney, have welcomed the decision.

The move follows consideration of new proposals to try to resolve the six-week-old dispute and the intervention of the National Implementation Body.

Unions are expected to commence a ballot of members on the proposals, which include provision for a 37.5-hour working week by June 2008, and an independently chaired review of how a 35-hour week might be achieved.

The unions’ claim for a 10.6% pay increase would be dealt with by the benchmarking body. It is the most significant development in the nurses’ dispute to date and as a gesture of goodwill national work stoppages planned for today have been suspended.

It is unclear whether the INO & the Psychiatric Nurses Association ballot will include a recommendation to nurses. The ban on overtime due to commence on Friday is also being lifted by nurses, although work-to-rule will continue until the ballot result is known.

The HSE is advising patients affected by today’s cancelled work stoppages that their appointments remain postponed despite today’s action being called off. Around 1,400 outpatient and surgical appointments are affected.

Patients are also being asked not to ring hospitals about appointments as the nurses’ work-to-rule is still in place meaning phones are not being answered.

The HSE is rescinding its earlier threat to dock nurses’ pay. General Secretary of the INO Liam Doran said the proposals offered great potential and warranted very serious consideration.

Ms Harney called the offer fair and balanced. Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and Finance Minister Brian Cowen also welcomed the proposals. In a joint statement they said the NIB proposals were the result of many weeks of engagement in the issues within the social partnership process.

The Taoiseach and the ministers have strongly urged early acceptance of the recommendations so that work on the package of actions set out by the NIB can get under way.

Tánaiste Michael McDowell praised the nurses’ unions for what he said had been a reasonable negotiation in the dispute, but he urged their members to remember that they lived in an economic world, and that the Government had to take decisions in that broad context.