Irish nurses 'are not the world's second-best paid'

The INO disputes Tánaiste's claim, reports Scott Millar

Nurses' leaders are perplexed by Mary Harney's claim that Irish nurses are the second-best paid in the world and that their current pay claim would cost €1.5 billion. The Irish Nurses Organisation (INO), which is rallying in Croke Park on 14 June, six days before their pay claim is to be considered by the Labour Court, have called on the minister to clarify her comments.

INO General Secretary, Liam Doran, said: "I have no notion where the Tánaiste obtained the view that Irish nurses are the second-best paid nurses in the world. Secondly, I have no knowledge or understanding where the figure of €1.5 billion as a total cost of our pay claim comes from. They keep on saying that is taking into account the knock-on consequences. What knock on consequences are they taking into account?"

A spokesperson for the Department of Health said: "Table A.2.5. of the OECD Health Indicators 2005 shows that for the countries reporting in the last two years ('03-'04) Irish nurses' pay is the second-highest. This takes relative costs of living into account. For Ireland, it excludes overtime, which could put the figure higher and it only related to publicly-funded hospitals. The country that has a higher rate of pay in 2003 was Denmark, but this included overtime and related to all nurses.

However, she added: "We do not claim any more than is shown in the table. For example, some countries are not included or their data is older, making cross-country comparisons difficult. It is clear from the table that nurses pay in 2002 for parts of Australia was higher than Ireland and in the US in earlier years. It is also clear, however, that Irish nurses pay is one of the highest by any measure."

The data the Department refers to is a table in 'Health at a glance, OECD tables from 2005'. It lists 12 countries from the 30 members of the OECD.

Liam Doran responded: "The OECD does not cover the world. At what level are they comparing? Is that upon graduation or after five years or ten years? Does that take into account additional qualifications? Surely what is more important in the context of somebody's pay is their relative position within their own economy. We are asking to be compared with what this country pays therapists, chiropodists, occupational therapists, no less, no more. Isn't that more relative to the average nurse that being told you're the second best paid in the world when nobody is sure what exactly you are comparing us to? The issue here is that there is a pay anomaly where a graduating nurse this year will take 21 years to be paid more than a less qualified social care worker who reports to the nurse."