Nurses win battle over ‘low-paid sham’

Hospital budget plans have been thrown into turmoil before they are even finalised after nurses won a major battle against a “low-paid sham” “yellow-pack” graduate scheme.

In a highly embarrassing move, the HSE yesterday admitted its controversial plan to employ new graduates on significantly reduced salaries is in real jeopardy as nurses are boycotting the policy.

The scheme, instigated by Health Minister Dr James Reilly, was expected to fill up to 1,000 positions in the understaffed system.

This would have saved the cash-strapped HSE €10m a year as these new workers would have been appointed for two years on salaries of circa €22,000 — 20% less than existing starting rates — to effectively replace overtime and agency workers.

The plan is still in place, with the HSE extending the eligibility criteria to now include graduates from 2010 and 2011, as well as extending the deadline for applications from today until the start of February.

However, the Irish Nurses and Midwives’ Organisation (INMO) boycott has severely dented its progress, with the union insisting application levels are non-existent.

And while the situation will be seen as a victory for nurses and employee rights, it risks having a dire impact on hospital budgets plans.

Under the HSE national service plan published last week, senior officials flagged the graduate nursing scheme row among 11 “potential risks to delivery”.

Specifically, the report said more cuts would have to take place within each hospital than already planned if the graduate nurse scheme — controversially included in the plan without union backing — did not succeed.

These hospital and HSE regional budgets must be drawn up by the end of February, based on the national service plan guide.

The INMO reacted to the HSE graduate scheme delay by saying it will “broaden and intensify” its boycott of the “low-paid sham”.

It said the HSE move “confirms this was never an educational programme” and “was always an overt attempt to introduce cut price, yellow-pack nursing posts into our health service.”

The union has congratulated graduate nurses for their stance on the issue, will advise 2010 and 2011 nurses to do the same, and will brief TDs and senators at Leinster House next Wednesday to explain their reasons why.

The HSE admitted applications have been “slower than anticipated”, but is still refusing to reveal the exact number involved.

Last Friday, and again this Tuesday, it claimed interest was “strong”.

Poor graduate uptake

*Last Friday, the HSE sent out a nationwide statement insisting “informal interest and inquiries regarding the [graduate nurses] scheme” had been “strong”.

However, it declined to provide the actual figures, and repeated the situation to the Irish Examiner on Tuesday.

On Wednesday night, the same officials conceded — rather more quietly — that there has in fact been next-to-no interest in the posts.

Speaking on RTÉ’s =Morning Ireland yesterday, HSE director of human resources, Barry O’Brien, admitted there was “a very slow level of application”.

He claimed “actual numbers is not the issue” but accepted “a small number of people had applied”.

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