Thursday, 7 February 2019
Nurses and Midwives Industrial Action: Statements
As the Minister knows, I am a former trade union official and am also the daughter of a trade union official. I have been a trade unionist all of my life and was very proud to stand on the picket line with nurses and midwives this morning at Beaumont Hospital. They gave me a number of messages, one of which is a badge for the Minister which reads "Save Staff". I do not imagine that the Minister is opposed to that and that is why they are on the picket lines today. The Minister will have seen pictures of nurses and midwives in Abu Dhabi, Australia and all over the world who are asking the Minister to give them a reason to come home. They are appealing directly to the Minister and asking him to give them a reason to come home by paying them decently. They are asking him to stop educating nurses and midwives to work in health services elsewhere and to stop spending a fortune to supplement existing staff by paying for agency staff every single day of the week. The agency bill is continuing to rise. Indeed, that was one of the first issues I raised with the Minister for Health when I came into the Dáil, and I have continually raised it since then because it is a waste of money to keep escalating the agency pay bill.
The Minister asked what can be done and he put it to those of us on this side of the House to outline what we would do. I have Ms Phil Ní Sheaghdha's phone number in my phone and I will give it to the Minister when this debate is over. The Minister can pick up the phone, ring her and have a conversation with her on what can be done. He can also stop issuing press releases that are doing nothing other than getting the backs up of the men and women on the picket line. The word used by the Minister's boss was "discourteous". He said it was discourteous to issue a press release of that nature and not to talk to the people involved directly. The Minister is dead right when he says that this will not be solved in here. Any dispute in which I was involved when I was working in the union was never going to be resolved in this Chamber and we all know that. There is very sophisticated industrial relations machinery available, but there is no point in everyone sitting around a table, looking at each other when the will is not there to resolve the dispute.
The Minister can send a signal now. He can send a signal to the third-party machinery and to the nurses, some of whom are here today and many of whom are listening or watching on the picket lines. They want to hear what the Minister has to say, but what has he said to them? He has said that he is terribly concerned about short staffing and patient safety, but every day of the week, nurses and midwives are cancelling procedures. They are experts in that now. They pick up the phone and tell people that there are not enough beds or enough staff and that their procedures are being cancelled. Every one of us knows these people because they come to our clinics or are in our families. We know that procedures are being cancelled every single day of the week. The Minister's concern for patient safety in the context of a strike rings very hollow to the men and women on the picket line at the moment. They are on strike for safe staffing levels. The Minister must give them a reason to stay or to come home from abroad. That is all they want.
This dispute can be resolved within the confines of the PSSA. The Minister should not take my word for it but should talk to the nurses directly. They will tell him how it can be done. They are out on strike for the sake of patients. They are on strike because the health service needs more staff. Many of those contributing to this debate today will say that nurses and midwives are only marvellous and are lovely and will ask what we would do without them. They are workers who are on strike for decent wages. They believe their dispute can be resolved within the context of the PSSA. The Minister must listen to them. He should not take my word for it but should talk to them directly. He must stop issuing offensive press releases and pretending that he is offering talks while saying that the Government will talk about everything except pay. That is an absolute insult. Pay has to be central to this. The Government did not oppose the Sinn Féin motion that was passed in this House last April, the very last line of which argued that pay must be central to the resolution of issues around recruitment and retention. We have a recruitment and retention crisis which can be added to the list of the other crises and scandals. The Government has an opportunity now to do the right thing. This dispute will not be resolved in here. Fine words from all of us will not resolve this industrial dispute. What will resolve it is direct, face-to-face negotiations, but the political will on the part of the Government to resolve this dispute must be there. These are workers and this is an industrial dispute. Nurses and midwives do not want a pat on the back. They want to be paid decent wages and they want the Minister to talk to them as professionals.