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Nurses in Ireland vote to go on strike for second time in history

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Members of a major Irish nursing union have voted in favour of taking national strike action over low pay, which leaders say is driving staff shortages

The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation announced today that 95% of its members had voted in a ballot to go on strike in a dispute over staff shortages and pay.

“Ireland’s nurses and midwives are speaking with one clear voice”

Phil Ní Sheaghdha

The INMO’s executive council, made up of elected nurses and midwives from across the Republic of Ireland, will meet on 7 and 8 January to “discuss the result and decide the next steps”.

The executive will determine dates for a 24-hour national strike, which would see INMO members withdraw their labour, providing only emergency and lifesaving care, the union said in a statement.

It would be only the second time in the union’s 100-year history that its members have taken national strike action. Nurses and midwives last engaged in strike action two decades ago in 1999.

Any strike would also represent a ramping up of action after nurses and midwives across Ireland staged protests in September against staff shortages and patient overcrowding in their hospitals.

The issues driving Irish nurses’ anger centre on staff shortages caused by low pay, leaving the public health service unable to recruit and retain enough nurses and midwives to safely care for patients.

The INMO noted that nurses and midwives were the lowest-paid graduate professionals in the Irish health service, earning thousands less than similarly qualified staff, despite working a longer week.

For example, it said a staff nurse would earn €31,110 (£27,925) after one year, €36,383 (£32,658) after five years, €43,070 (£38,661) after 10 and €45,701 (£41,023) after 15.

This compared with a range of €37,784 (£33,916) to €52,059 (£46,730) over the same period for therapists and €36,228 (£32,519) to €50,040 (£44,917) for radiographers, according to the union.

Recent government pay proposals did not affect most nurses and midwives and were rejected as insufficient by 94% of INMO members in October.

The INMO has more than 40,000 nurse and midwife members and all those employed by the public health service can have their say. Polling took place between 19 November and 13 December.

INMO general secretary Phil Ní Sheaghdha said: “Ireland’s nurses and midwives are speaking with one clear voice.

“This vote reflects a deep frustration in our professions, which the government cannot continue to ignore,” she said.

“Nurses and midwives simply want to do their jobs and care for patients properly. But low pay has led to staff shortages, compromising safe care,” said Ms Ní Sheaghdha.

She added: “Ireland’s current haphazard approach to nurse staffing is costly and bad for patient care, as confirmed by the Minister for Health’s own nursing taskforce.”

“We just want to get on with the job we love, but staff shortages have made that impossible”

Martina Harkin-Kelly

INMO president Martina Harkin-Kelly said: “I don’t know a single nurse or midwife who wants to strike.

“We just want to get on with the job we love, but staff shortages have made that impossible,” she said. “We’ve reached a breaking point.

“Nurses and midwives are united. We’re standing up for safe staffing, fair pay, and for our patients, who deserve better care,” said Ms Harkin-Kelly.

She added: “It’s time for government to listen to frontline voices and fix this problem once and for all.”

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