Deputy News Editor
The Union of Students in Ireland (USI) has launched its “Everybody Loves Nurses” campaign against the reduction in starting salary of graduate nurses by ¤4,000 to ¤22,000 and the payment of below minimum wage salaries to nurses on their final year work placements.
The campaign began with a demonstration outside Leinster House last Friday, with student nurses and representatives from ten colleges and from the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) participating, with some arriving dressed in hospital props and scrubs. A further protest outside HSE headquarters is planned for Thursday the 20th of February, which the USI hopes will be attended by around 500 student nurses.
The campaign aims to draw attention to the contrast between society’s dependence on healthcare staff and the pay they receive, with campaigners brandishing lapel-pins labelled “Am I worth ¤6.49?”
USI President Joe O’Connor called on the Minister for Health James Reilly to “change the starting salary back to ¤26,000”. The USI claims that nursing graduates in Canada earn a starting salary of ¤43,600 and O’Connor said the cut in the starting salary “is actively encouraging young graduate nurses to emigrate.” He called understaffing in healthcare a “massive issue” and declared that “everyone has a right to a living wage, especially hard working nurses”.
In January 2013 the INMO organised a boycott of the HSE’s plan to recruit 1,000 nursing graduates at the new lower starting salaries.Pay for student nurses on their 36 week fourth year placements has been set at ¤6.49 for the first 12 weeks of their placement, before rising to ¤6.92 for the next 12 weeks and ¤7.79 in the last 12 weeks, still well below the national minimum wage of ¤8.65 per hour. On average over the placement, students are paid about 53 per cent of the minimum wage.
The government announced in 2011 that it planned to reduce student nurses’ pay to 50 per cent of the minimum wage in 2013 and to continue reducing it each year, with the target of zero pay by 2015. The HSE described the payment of trainee nurses as “unique” to Ireland. The HSE has since increased working hours for nurses and midwives from 37.5 to 39 hours per week, in a move which the HSE said was part of the Haddington Road Agreement between the government and public sector unions. The INMO maintains that management is in breach of national minimum wage legislation, and says it has filed a complaint against the HSE to the Labour Relations Commission.