Thursday, 7 February 2019
Nurses and Midwives Industrial Action: Statements
I acknowledge the contributions and questions that have been put by all Deputies here this morning.
I want to respond to one particular allegation that has been made this morning about the nature of the current wage agreement. A number of speakers have asserted that we do not have wage restoration or wage growth in place. The agreement, as negotiated at the moment, provides that anybody earning below €35,000 will see wage increases, as they should and deserve. The agreement ensures, contrary to the claims of some, that anybody earning less than €50,000 will have their wages fully restored by 2019. The current wage agreement ensures that anybody earning less than €70,000 will have their overall wages restored to €70,000 by the end of 2020.
Claims that we are not budgeting for, or implementing, wage restoration or wage growth for some people are not true. It is happening. It is under way and part of the current wage agreement.
On the questions that have been put to us about new entrant pay and our response to challenges, the current wage agreement contains provisions to ensure that anybody participating in that agreement could benefit from up to €3,000 from the concluded negotiations with the Public Service Pay Commission of ICTU. I have heard repeated claims this morning that we do not have agreements in place to tackle wage restoration, but we do, for low and middle-income workers. The agreement we have in place makes provision for dealing with the issue of new entrants' pay.
A charge and claim has been made and repeated by Deputies that there are four vacancies for every one applicant for nursing jobs. That is a figure we have often heard. That figure is based on an article from April 2017 that, in turn, had its origin in the Global Jobs website. The figures from the Public Service Pay Commission showed that, on average, there are 1.86 applicants for every place on a recruitment panel. Those are people who want to work in our public services and gain work there.
The Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, and I have acknowledged in our contributions that, in addition to emphasising the understanding and respect we have for all who work in our public services, particularly our health services, we have also looked to sketch the competing claims we have and challenges we face. The following is a core point for Government in its response to these issues. It is not clear to me how, were this collective wage agreement to come to a disorderly end, we would be able to negotiate another to take its place. That has consequences for our public servants, how we pay for them and how we ensure they get the wages they deserve and are entitled to in the future.
I make the point to my Fianna Fáil colleagues that it was their efforts and leadership at another point of great change in our economy that showed how collective wage agreements could play an essential part in how we manage wage pressure and ensure public servants are paid fairly.
A positive legacy of Fianna Fáil Governments is that they showed in collective wage agreements we could pay people by reference to what they earned as opposed to the leverage they had. They showed how that approach could be made to work.