Tuesday, 5 February 2019
Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions
We have had a system for resolving industrial relations disputes for 20 or 30 years now, including the time of the last nursing strike that went on for nine days in 1999. That is something I do not want to see repeated. Under that system, we deal with these disputes through the Workplace Relations Commission and the Labour Court as the final arbiter in such disputes. That is the best way to manage industrial relations disputes. It has worked for 20 or 30 years and I have no doubt that it will resolve this dispute also. The Government and the various agencies of government are willing to engage through the WRC, as was offered yesterday, or the Labour Court, should it determine that an intervention is appropriate.
Reference was made to recruitment and retention. As I have said before, I acknowledge that this is a real issue. It is a real issue in large parts of the public sector and the private sector as we approach full employment. As the nursing unions have stated, when it comes to healthcare, we live in a very competitive environment where people with healthcare degrees can work in almost any part of the world. Notwithstanding this, since we lifted the recruitment embargo four or five years ago, there are some 3,500 more nurses working in the health service. That is a significant increase. In the past year alone, excluding students, approximately 800 more nurses and midwives are working in the public service. While there are plenty of people leaving, more are coming home or from other countries. While there are plenty of people leaving the profession, there are more coming into it. Our turnover rate of 5% is approximately one third of that in Australia, yet it is a struggle to recruit and retain. Deputies will know that we pay more than Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales and most of the United Kingdom, with the exception of London. We pay more than most of Europe. All of those places have recruitment and retention challenges. Other places pay more. Australia pays more, as does the United Arab Emirates. Those areas and countries also struggle to recruit and need to recruit from all over the world. Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that an 8%, 9%, 10% or 12% pay rise will actually solve the recruitment and retention problem. It has not solved the problem for Australia or the Middle East.