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Nurses contract negotiations

A disappointing (but unsurprising) reality emerges

10 March 2019

The leadership of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation and the Psychiatric Nurses Association, having decided to settle the nurses strike within the strait jacket of the Public Sector Stability Agreement (PSSA), settled on a time-honoured strategy of long drawn out local meetings and explanations in advance of a vote designed to demobilise opposition to the deal.

Unfortunately for the leaderships, this extended  period of time means that the agreement has started to explain itself.

Firstly the PSSA agreement meant to address two-tier pay in the public sector came into force. It nudges pay for new entrants up by movement along an increment scale. That will remind nurses that their award is arrived at by double counting some of this money and that their award, as with the rest of the public sector, contains no mechanism for ever arriving at pay parity - the 10% cut in pay and additional cuts in allowances imposed in 2011 remain in force.

At the other end of the pay scale, involving senior nurses, increases on a new scale of €1000 to €2500 were to be achieved by productivity deals that would pay for themselves.

The employers have now published their proposals.

In order to earn relatively small amounts of money that bring them nowhere near other public sector graduates nurses are being asked to:

  • Work flexible shifts from 4 hours to 12 hours.
  • Work at sites up to 45 kilometres from their base.
  • Transfer roles between hospital and community care when required, even within one shift.
  • Overall a completely new community care service is to be built by a super speedup of senior nurses.
In response the INMO leadership have adopted the Janus - like posture traditionally adopted by union leaders, simultaneously being for and against the settlement.
“This draft is the employer’s opening move in negotiations and is not acceptable to the INMO and our members….

...“The INMO’s executive will only recommend proposals to members if it is satisfied with the proposed new contract. We will continue to engage with the employer to ensure a fair contract for our members”.

They then found themselves in the WRC saying:
…. intensive engagement with the employers, at which we made progress to remove the most objectionable elements from the much-publicised first draft of the employer's proposed contract. The INMO remains adamant that the parameters set by the Labour Court's recommendation cannot be exceeded.
So the nurses leadership accepted the Labour Court ruling, recommended acceptance to their members, called off all industrial action and now says that a terrible deal can be turned into a less objectionable  contract through their superior negotiating skills! We are supposed to ignore the fact that none of the declared objectives of the strike were met.

Attention will now focus on the members ballot and to a rush to decision without the details of the settlement being known. As in the past trade unionists may be forced to vote again until they come up with the right answer.

There are deeper issues. How can nurses move forward with a leadership that so immediately and comprehensively betrays them?

There are assets. The determination expressed by the nurses during the strike, the mass support within the working class, together would make it possible to organise inside and outside the unions to overthrow a moribund leadership.

However this cannot be based on arguing around fudging wage rates. The basis for mobilising the working class is an all-out fight for a living wage and against the ongoing destruction and privatisation of the health service and free health care for all, based on need.

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