Government votes against motion to pay student nurses and midwives on placement

All opposition and independent TDs voted in favour of the motion

Last night, the government voted against a Solidarity; People Before Profit (PBP) motion to pay the student nurses and midwives on placement. 

All opposition and independent TDs voted in favour of the motion. The motion was defeated by 77 votes to 72.

Today, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly confirmed that student nurses who lost employment due to the pandemic will be eligible for the Pandemic Unemployment Payment.

Pay will be backdated to the date at which employment was lost. 

Also today, during Leader’s Questions, Sinn Fein’s Pearse Doherty raised the topic of government’s rejection of this motion and asked Tánaiste Leo Varadkar to revisit the issue. 

In response to this question, Tánaiste Varadkar stated that “a review of student allowances is now underway and will be completed shortly” and said that the outcome of the review will be discussed with unions, with a view to implement its proposed changes from September 2021 onwards. 

Last night’s motion called for immediate reinstatement of the Health Care Assistant (HCA) rate of payment for student nurses and midwives on placement during the pandemic. Student nurses and midwives were offered HCA contracts in March under then-Minister for Health Simon Harris. 

The PBP motion also called for increased engagement with student nurses and midwives and their union representatives “to establish a bursary or payment system that will fully acknowledge the work they do in our health service and will cover the costs of travel and accommodation for the length of their placements.” 

Also included in this motion was a proposal to abolish all fees for students who are training to work on the frontline in order to stem the “brain drain” the Health Service is currently experiencing. 

PBP leader Richard Boyd Barrett TD said that government voting against the motion last night was “cold-hearted and a detriment to the integrity of public health in this country, especially in the light of Covid-19″ and that denying this motion was denying these workers “a very basic scheme of remuneration and respect.”

Minister Donnelly, who was not present for the debate on the motion, had previously cited his concerns over the students’ education as a major factor in the decision to not pay them. 

Speaking on behalf of Minister Donnelly, Minister of State for Disability Anne Rabbitte acknowledged “the difficulties that student nurses and midwives have experienced over the past nine months” but highlighted the differences between the first and second surges of the virus and again expressed the Minister’s concerns over students’ education as major reasons they could not support the Private Members’ motion. 

Joint leader of the Social Democrats Róisín Shorthall implored the government to vote in favour of the motion, saying that “it should bring shame upon the Minister for Health and the Government that our student nurses and midwives are being exploited for cheap labour under the current clinical placement scheme.”

In October the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) released a statement urging the government to pay the student nurses and midwives on placement. They also started a petition which has since garnered over 25,000 signatures. 

The Union of Students Ireland (USI) have also been vocal in their support of this petition. During the debate, USI were vocal on their Twitter in support of the student nurses and midwives, retweeting posts with the hashtag #SupportStudentNursesandMidvives. 

TCD Students’ Union (SU) also spoke out condemning the government for voting against the motion. SU President Eoin Hand stated that it was “disgraceful” that the government voted against the motion.

Currently, student nurses and midwives are only afforded a 50 euro a week travel allowance during their placements. 

Kate Henshaw

Kate Henshaw is current Deptuty Editor of Trinity News, and a Senior Sophister Sociology and Social Policy student. She previously served as News Editor and Assistant News Editor.