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Midwifery unions in UK and Ireland sign agreement to ‘Brexit proof midwives’

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Royal College of Midwives and the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation are to sign a “historic partnership” today, meaning they will look after each other’s members working across the border.

The two representative bodies will sign a memorandum of understanding at the Irish Embassy in London, which they said marked a “unique” initiative between trade unions across borders.

“The mutual representation rights confirmed between our organisations is a unique experiment”

Phil Ni Sheaghdha

Under the memorandum agreement, they will effectively agree to adopt the members of their sister organisation when they are working, on a temporary basis, in the jurisdiction of the other union.

Additionally, in the event of a so-called “hard” Brexit, the INMO said it would work as a “conduit” for the RCM to the European Commission. This, it said, would ensure a “two-way flow” of information that was relevant to the care of mothers and babies in both the UK and the Republic of Ireland.

But the two unions said the deal would strengthen the ability of midwives to practise and educate, regardless of the eventual outcome of the Brexit negotiations between the UK and European Union.

“Today is about our two trade unions and professional bodies Brexit –proofing our relationship for our members”

Jon Skewes

For example, under a licence agreement, INMO members will also now have a “gateway into the massive repository” of research and education that is currently provided by the RCM to its members.

The RCM’s i-Learn and i-Folio is an online learning resource with over 100 courses available for midwives and midwifery support workers to build their professional development. In addition, both organisations have committed to the following:

  • Defining employment assistance to members working in the country of the other 
  • Working together to seek to identify areas for common approaches to influence on behalf of our members whether nationally or internationally
  • Hosting joint events and conferences for midwives and support workers across Ireland and Northern Ireland
  • Exploring and providing appropriate assistance on the professional development needs of midwife members on an agreed basis
  • Exploring and providing appropriate assistance on the future routes to influence within the EU

The memorandum will be signed by INMO president Martina Harkin-Kelly and general secretary Phil Ni Sheaghdha, and RCM president Kathryn Gutteridge and general secretary and chief executive Gill Walton.

Speaking ahead of the launch, Ms Harkin-Kelly described the memorandum as an “exciting development” for its midwife members.

“The RCM is a world leader in terms of progressive evidence based midwifery practice and education and development,” she said.

She added: “We look forward to a rich collaborative partnership where the needs of mothers and babies, through the professions of midwifery, can be advanced and developed maintaining the record of these islands as the safest places in the world for childbirth.”

Ms Ni Sheaghdha said: “The mutual representation rights confirmed between our two organisations is a unique experiment for unions in Europe.

“It is timely given Brexit and it may set an example for greater co-operation into the future in advancing the rights and entitlements of professional workers in our health services,” she said.

Ms Walton said: “Today marks a very significant day in the history of both our trade unions and professional bodies. We have come together in the face of Brexit to choose to work with midwives in the Republic of Ireland.

“In future we will work closely with the INMO to assist both our members to provide safe, high quality maternity services for women and their families,” she said. “Irish midwives will also now be able to access high quality learning resources via RCM’s i-learn which will go towards their professional development.”

Jon Skewes, RCM director of policy, employment relations and communications, noted that the RCM and IMNO already had a “history of working together” but said today was about the two organisations “Brexit-proofing our relationship for our members”.

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Gill Walton

“The RCM views Brexit as a threat, a threat to cross boarder provision of maternity services, staffing levels and to co-operation and learning from each other,” he said.

“We will now jointly ensure our members who work in others jurisdiction are properly represented; equally we will now use our joint influence not only in Europe, but in our member’s workplace’s and with both our respective governments,” he added.

Both organisations are members of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and the European Public Services Union.

The congress has endorsed the initiative, and it has also been welcomed by the Irish Department of Health. The signing of the memorandum, which will take place at 1pm on 22 January, is being overseen by the Irish Ambassador to the UK.

This year marks the centenary year of the first all-Ireland Midwives Act and the launching of the partnership is the first of a series of celebrations of the midwifery profession throughout 2018.

Royal College of Midwives/RCM/INMO

Unions sign unique deal designed to ‘Brexit proof midwives’

Pictured (left to right): Jon Skewes, RCM’s director for employment relations, policy and communications, Martina Harkin-Kelly, INMO president, Julie Richards, chair RCM board, Gill Walton, RCM general secretary and chief executive, Martin O’ Neill, ambassador of Ireland to UK, Phil Ni Sheaghdha, INMO general secretary, Breedagh Hughes, RCM director for Northern Ireland, and David Hughes, assistant general secretary of INMO

Royal College of Midwives/RCM/INMO

Unions sign unique deal designed to ‘Brexit proof midwives’

Pictured (left to right): Julie Richards, RCM board chair, Gill Walton, RCM general secretary and chief executive, Phil Ni Sheaghdha, INMO general secretary, and Martina Harkin-Kelly, INMO president

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