Over 700 student and graduate nurses were among those who attended a demonstration held today at St. Steeven’s Hospital, opposite Heuston Station, Dublin. The demonstration was held in protest against the working conditions and payment of nurses and midwives once they graduate. The demonstration, organised by the USI, was attended by numerous student unions from across the country and many student and graduate nurses from different colleges spoke about their experiences working as interns or as part of the graduate scheme.
The USI have organised the campaign to highlight the deficiencies in pay and working conditions that affect graduate nurses and midwives in Ireland. They are requesting an increase in pay for those on the graduate scheme and want to engage in talks with Minister Reilly regarding the payment of nursing and midwifery interns.
Joe O’Connor has said that “The majority of 2013 graduate nurses and midwives have left Ireland to work abroad. This unfair treatment cannot continue. If it does, we will be left with a problem of epidemic proportions: no nurses or midwives left to work in our hospital wards… James Reilly needs to understand that when he said “emigrate or work in a fast food service if unhappy”, many graduates took him at his word – and now the situation needs to be rectified”.
Fully qualified graduate nurses and midwives are currently paid €6.49 an hour for the first three months of the training course, rising to €6.92 for the next three months and capping at €7.72 for the final trimester. At most, these graduates are paid 90% of the national minimum wage.
After their internship, nurses may be offered a two-year contract with the HSE as part of the graduate scheme, under which they will be paid €23,129 as a starting salary for the first year. This is 85% of the staff-starting pay and this rises to 90% in the second year of the graduate scheme. However, under this contract, the HSE can move nurses to any hospital in the country depending on where they are needed.
Trinity News spoke to a number of student and graduate nurses at the demonstration, who spoke about the need for a pay increase for graduate nurses and midwives, their fears for the future and the unsustainability of the current standards in Irish hospitals.
Orla Daley, First Year, DCU
“I don’t think I’ll stay in Ireland and work as a nurse once I graduate even if there was a pay increase, I want to go London to work. You’re just better off moving somewhere else, where you’ll get more pay and better conditions and not just survive like nurses have to do here.”
Ciara O’Gorman, Third Year, Waterford
“It costs €250,000 to train a nurse and yet we are all forced to leave the country. The pay that I’ll be on once I graduate is a €20,000 per year drop from my previous job working in a shop. It’s absolutely scandalous. The current internship or training course wage of €6.49 per hour is a 40% cut from what nurses were being paid a few years ago. It’s not like we’re newly qualified either, by the time we enter the graduate scheme, we’ve worked thousands of hours for free and we’ve done the internship during which we’ve been managing wards ourselves. You’re a paid member of staff during your internship, you’re on the roster, someone else is not in because you are there except you’re work for €6.49.
It’s either that or have nothing here but then most countries won’t take on nurses unless they have two years experience which is why the graduate programme is there but the HSE can place you in any hospital in the country during that two-year contract. It’s so frustrating. Once I’m finished I feel I’ll have to move and it won’t be by choice, I’ve never wanted to emigrate.”
Dawn, Third Year, Waterford
“I feel it’s very frustrating to think that the government puts a lot of money into the training of a nurse and yet the other side of it, the pay is so bad when you qualify that many decide to emigrate. Also as a mature student I’ll spend four years training still trying to pay bills, still trying to make ends meet and then come out the other side and to basically be faced with, as Minister Reilly put it ‘you can either work in a fast food outlet with your degree or you can leave the country’. That’s a very poor attitude for a minister who basically is the face of the health care system to have. Really, if they’re going to put the money in on one side to train us up, and then basically have the attitude of leave the country if you don’t like it, it’s a complete disgrace.
They might think that €23,000 is a decent wage for someone who’s graduated out of college but for the work that we put in, it’s not fair. Irish nurses are very highly valued in other countries, and preferred in some ways to their own graduates, because they know we’re trained to a very high standard and yet our own country doesn’t value that training or how hard we’ve worked. Obviously a lot of us would like to stay in the country that we’ve been born and raised in but to think that we will be pushed out because you can’t survive on that wage for two years post qualification, especially if you studied as a mature student. It’s a complete slap in the face really.”