Ireland: “I support nurses, just as I detest parasite speculators” – Joe Higgins, Socialist Party TD (MP)

Nurses take industrial action for decent wages and conditions

Over the past two and half weeks, members of the Irish Nurses Organisation and the Psychiatric Nurses Association, the two main unions representing nurses in Ireland, were involved in industrial action to pursue their completely justified claim for a 35 hour week and a 10.6% pay increase. This action involved nurses implementing a work-to-rule and organising one hour stoppages in hospitals across the country.

Nurses play an invaluable role in propping up the Irish health service, which still remains chronically under-funded despite the unprecedented growth that has taken place in the Irish economy over the past 15 years. Therefore, despite the campaign of vilification by the media and government against the nurses, support for them remains high amongst working class people.

From the beginning, the Socialist Party (CWI in Ireland) fully supported the demands of the INO and PNA for decent pay and conditions for nurses. Socialist Youth, the youth wing of the Socialist Party, also assisted student nurses in getting organised to fight for payment of the hours they work on the wards, as well as receiving proper travel allowance and other entitlements.

Below is the text of a leaflet distributed by members of the Socialist Party at a one hour stoppage of nurses at St.James’ Hospital, Dublin, followed by a recent speech by Joe Higgins, Socialist Party TD (MP), in the Irish parliament, supporting the nurses.

“I support nurses, just as I detest parasite speculators” – Joe Higgins, Socialist Party TD (MP)

Socialist Party says…

  • Nurses demands completely justified
  • Nurses have the power to force the government to concede

The Socialist Party, and our TD [MP] Joe Higgins, fully supports the nurse’s demands for a decent wage increase and for a 35-hour working week.

Nurses have been waiting 27 years for the Government and the Health Authorities to respond to their demands and the industrial action is completely justified.

A lot is at stake. The Government wants to lower wages and conditions in the public and private sectors. To concede significant concessions to the nurses could encourage other workers who have seen their wage decrease as inflation more than cancels out the ‘Towards 2016’ deal.

They [government] hope to lean on the media and force nurses into negotiations so all action will be dropped until after the election [pending Irish general elections]. However, regardless of the attempts of the media, the overwhelming majority of the public support the nurses’ action.

Negotiations now, without a significant shift in the government’s and the HSE’s position, would just serve to cut across the momentum of the nurse’s action, without the prospect of serious concessions. However, the nurses have the power to put the government and the HSE (Health Service Executive) under huge pressure to concede.

Firstly, the INO and the PNA should link the government and HSE responsibility for the crisis in the health service to their unwillingness to invest in the frontline staff. Up until now, the unions have let the government and HSE off the hook on this. If this

link were made, the nurses would get even greater public support and they would also see that the nurses are fighting on their behalf.

Secondly, the action should be escalated. Nurses have the right to withdraw their labour and if that causes significant disruption to aspects of the health service that is the responsibility of the government and the HSE. By taking these two steps, the nurses could break the resolve of the government and force them to make concessions.

The Socialist Party believes that action should be escalated, until there is a clear commitment to deal with the nurses’ concerns.

Fight for the rights of student nurses

Student nurses support the struggle of their colleagues. Student nurses are also angry and demand that they get payment for their 30 week unpaid placement, as well as allowances for food, travel and car parking. They carry out important duties during placement and the fact that they are not paid represents gross exploitation and is

causing real hardship for many. The INO and the PNA should demand that entitlements and payment for student nurses be immediately forthcoming.

Socialist Party says:

  • Invest to resolve the health crisis and invest in the frontline staff – the nurses
  • Pay the 10.6% as well as an above inflation increase, back dated for all nurses and midwives
  • A 35-hour week for all health workers without any loss in pay rates
  • Escalate the action until the demands are conceded
  • Reject ‘social partnership’ and the government’s privatisation of health and other public services

Joe Higgins supports nurses

Joe Higgins, Socialist Party TD speaking in Dail Eireann [Irish parliament] on the Nurses’ Dispute, 3rd April 2007

Joe Higgins (Socialist Party): The refusal of the government to award nurses a decent wage increase and a reduced working week, stands in absolute contrast to how this same government facilitates extremely privileged groups to rip off the taxpayer left, right and centre. This same government will not pay nurses for critical life-saving work, but it raised the fees of senior barristers at the planning tribunal from an already massive €1,700 per day to €2,500 per day. That has given them, at taxpayers’ expense, as much money in three weeks as a critical care nurse earns in an entire year, yet the government now proposes to take the moral high ground with taxpayers’ funds.

The government allowed senior consultants rip off the health service to the amount of tens of millions of euro in the PPARS fiasco. It did not raise a finger in ten years to stop its friends, namely, speculators, developers and landlords, amass obscene riches at the expense of ordinary working people through land speculation, profiteering in housing and rack-renting. However, citizens who fall seriously ill will not want at their side a senior planning barrister or a computer consultant, and they will certainly not want a speculator, a developer or a landlord. They will want a kind and qualified nurse, yet the government takes a cudgel to hammer this group’s demand for decent wages and a reduced working week, while allowing free rein to those for whom greed is the driving force.

I support nurses, the healers and the life savers, just as I detest parasite speculators and others who have enriched themselves enormously as a result of the policies of this government. The Minister for Health and Children really does have a brass neck. She stated that fairness demands that "we put patients first, avoiding at all costs inconvenience, distress, disturbance and delays for patients and their families".

These are the problems which the government and the Health Service Executive visit daily on hundreds of thousands of patients and their families in many accident and emergency rooms and in many hospitals throughout the country. It failed to honour a promise to deliver thousands of extra hospital beds that were drastically cut in the 1980s. It failed to fund properly the health service. The government does not have any moral authority to lecture nurses. It should pay nurses and cut back on some of the goodies thrown to its privileged millionaire friends at the expense of the taxpayer.

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April 2007