Student nurses campaign against 'slave labour' cuts

This week student nurses and midwives began a concerted campaign against the government's plans to cut their pay with protests at hospitals across the country.

On Wednesday (9 February), around 3,500 students staged demonstrations at 13 hospitals in the first phase of a campaign of resistance against planned pay cuts. The campaign is supported by the Irish Nurses and Midwives Association (INMO) and students were joined at the protests by their qualified staff colleagues.

In Budget 2011 the government announced a 10% pay reduction for all new entrants to the public service. Should plans to cut the pay of student nurses go ahead, pre-registration nurses and midwives on nine-month work placements in their final year of study will see their pay phased out as follows:

  • 2011 – 76% of the new lower scale
  • 2012 – 60% of the new lower scale
  • 2013 – 50% of the new lower scale
  • 2014 – 40% of the new lower scale

From 2015 onwards, they will be expected to work for free.

Currently, student nurses receive 80 per cent of the minimum point on the pay scale for staff nurses. They are the lowest paid grade in the health service.

At the St James's demonstration student nurses told Trade Union TV how other frontline workers such as gardaí and prison officers are paid throughout their training and are also guaranteed posts when they complete their education. "Our nurses in Ireland aren't guaranteed a post at the end [of their studies]" one student said, "and they are depending on the 36 weeks internship for some form of payment."

"They [the government] are running us out of the country", another protestor commented.

INMO general secretary Liam Doran said the proposal "devalues, to the level of slave labour, the nature of the essential direct care given during this 36 week rostered placement. No one can seriously expect people to work, the full roster and range of duties, for no pay."

Speaking at Wednesday's demonstration at St James's he said, "This campaign will continue until this is reversed. We're not going to have nurses work for nothing. Not now, not ever."

A further day of action is planned for next Wednesday, 16 February. A protest march will depart from Parnell Square at 12.30pm making its way to the Department of Health where a letter will be handed in, calling on the incoming Minister for Health to reverse the move.

If there is no resolution following the two days of action, unions will ballot pre-registration nurses and midwives for a withdrawal of their labour from early March.

Below is a video of Wednesday's demonstration at St James's, courtesy of Paula Geraghty.