Nurses in Ireland stage first of six one-day strikes

Low wages and staffing crisis have forced industrial action, union argues

Low wages and staffing crisis have forced industrial action, union argues

Nurse and midwife members of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation on strike
in Dublin this week. Picture: Lisa Moyles

Nurses in the Republic of Ireland have staged a 24-hour strike, in the first industrial action of its kind in the country for 20 years.

From 8am yesterday until 8am this morning, nurses and midwives across the country only provided life-saving and emergency care, as many took to the picket lines.

The industrial action, the first of a planned six 24-hour strikes, is the result of an ongoing pay dispute with the government. The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) has argued that low wages have led to a safe staffing crisis in the country’s health system.

Possible penalties

Meanwhile, the Irish government suggested it was considering financially penalising nurses who took part in the strike.

Further strikes are planned for:

  • 5 and 7 February, each for 24 hours.
  • 12-14 February – for 72 hours.

An INMO spokesperson said the union’s members had been moved by the outpouring of public support at the picket lines, and thanked all those who donated food and drink to the protestors.

In response to reports that health minister Simon Harris was considering financial penalties against strike participants, the spokesperson described the comments as an ‘unhelpful’ implied threat of a pay cut. The spokesperson said: ‘Such actions won’t resolve the issues which led to the strike in the first place.’

Strike is a last resort

On the eve on the strike, INMO’s director of industrial relations Tony Fitzpatrick said industrial action was a last resort.

‘No nurse or midwife wants to go on strike, but we have been forced into this position by a government that just isn’t listening,’ he said.

Meanwhile, RCN Northern Ireland director Janice Smyth said nursing staff across the UK stood in solidarity with their Irish colleagues. ‘No matter where they work, nurses are determined to give patients the safe care they deserve – staffing levels must be made safe,’ she said.

A spokesperson for Ireland’s Department of Health said it was ‘extraordinarily regrettable’ that the strike had gone ahead.

They said Mr Harris recognised the valuable work of nurses and midwives, but added that INMO was breaching the terms of a previous agreement.

‘All parties are signed up to the Public Service Stability Agreement and, under that agreement, pay claims are prohibited,’ they added.

‘The government expects the unions to keep their side of the agreement.’

The spokesperson downplayed the prospect of financial penalties being considered, and instead highlighted how the government hoped to agree a deal with the union before the next strike date.

‘The window of time between now and further planned action next week presents an opportune time for all parties to redouble their efforts and broker an agreement,’ he said.

‘The minister has already stated publicly that his current focus is on reaching a resolution in order to avert further industrial action at this stage, rather than the application of financial penalties.’

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