Nurses’ Resignation Threat May Cripple Health Service

Tens of thousands of nurses may cripple the health service through mass resignations unless they are given a pay rise, it emerged today.

Union leaders warned that they are looking at the “nuclear option” used by nurses in Finland last November to bring the Government to its knees over their demands.

Both the Irish Nurses Organisation (INO) and the Psychiatric Nurses Association (PNA) said industrial relations chiefs have one last chance in the pay rise row before conflict breaks out.

“No option – including the nuclear option – can now be ruled out,” said Des Kavanagh, PNA general secretary.

“We will look at the experience of our colleagues in Finland… who eventually reached agreement with government but only at the 11th hour when they signed letters of mass resignation.”

The Scandinavian country was sent into a tailspin over the looming crisis with neighbouring Sweden and Germany asked to take emergency cases before a last-minute resolution.

The INO and PNA – which represent more than 45,000 nurses – said its members are furious that last week’s Public Service Benchmarking Body report did not recommend wage hikes for almost all the country’s nursing staff.

They said every industrial relations agency had insisted their five-year fight for a pay rise had to be dealt with through benchmarking, but now the benchmarking body said it was outside its remit.

Mr Kavanagh, PNA general secretary, said the unions are going back to the Labour Court for a final time before considering the “nuclear option”.

“The anger out there is incredible,” he said.

“In the days after the issuing of the report there was certainly dismay – it was as if people were punch drunk they were so shocked. But that sense of dismay has turned rapidly to anger.”

Dave Hughes, INO deputy general secretary, said nurses have had enough of industrial relations bodies playing “pass the parcel” with their “reasonable demands”.

 He issued a stark warning to the Government and the Labour Court that nurses are for the first time being forced into considering a mass walk out.

“If nurses are to be prevented from having to consider such drastic action then the [Labour] Court must now do what it is required to do and act to resolve one of the most serious disputes in Irish industrial relations in recent years,” he said.

“We’ve decided there’s one last opportunity if conflict is to be avoided.

“That opportunity is for the Labour Court for once and for all to say how these claims should be dealt with, and to put in place an open and transparent process which can be stood over.”

Nurses halted more than seven weeks of limited work-to-rule industrial action days before the General Election last year after reaching settlement proposals with the National Implementation Body (NIB).

These included a provision that a 10.6% pay rise claim would be progressed through benchmarking.

But the independent Government-appointed benchmarking body last week recommended salary hikes for only 1,000 senior nursing managers.

The body said it never received details of agreed proposals for specific changes in the role of nurses.

Mr Kavanagh said: “We have gone to every industrial relations fora in this country over five years – the Labour Relations Commission, the Labour Court on a number of occasions, NIB, discussions with social partners – and through all of that we have been referred constantly back to benchmarking.

“Then we go into benchmarking and the body tells us that they can’t deal with our claims which they find to be outside their terms of reference.”

The PNA leader said both unions will consult with their grass roots in every hospital and health service in the State over coming weeks about future action.

“This is last chance motel,” he insisted.

“I think Government should heed Opposition – it’s not going away, it needs to be resolved.”