Ministers reject ‘stick’ solution to dispute

Ministers have cautioned against punishing striking nurses with a “stick” approach by docking pay and instead suggested alternative ways to end work stoppages.

Redirecting over €100m in nursing agency payments and an examination of the current deal with unions could help end the impasse, ministers suggested to the Irish Examiner.

The ideas come as nurses, 35,000 held stoppages this week, plan two more strikes next week as well as three more later in the month after 35,000 stopped work this week.

Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty said punitive measures being considered by the Government would not work to resolve the protest.

The Department of Finance has confirmed that officials will “legally consider” if the strikes breach the current pay deal. Putting in a pay claim is also considered a breach. Nurses could potentially see future, scheduled pay rises and pension increases blocked.

Nonetheless, Mr Doherty, who pointed to support for nurses in her own constituency of Meath East, said she disagreed with such an approach.

“That isn’t a solution. You’ll never solve a problem, whether it is a strike, a problem with your kid, a fight with your husband, with a stick,” she said.

“You sit around the table and with rational discussions, you solve the problems.

“We are all grown-ups here, we know what the problems are.”

Any commitment on recruitment and retention needed to be done within the parameters of the current public pay sector agreement, said Ms Doherty, attending the Walk Real Ability launch at the Airfield Estate in Dublin.

The minister said the difficulty with pay parity was that it was not brought up in discussions over the public sector pay agreement which nurses had signed up to.

“What we are really talking about is recruitment and retention which is the section in the agreement where they feel there is wriggle room,” she said.

“Well then, we need to concentrate on that section to see what we can do within the public sector agreement, really.

“And if we are going to talk about the future, which is 2021 and is not far away, let’s talk about the future.”

Disabilities Minister Finian McGrath, also attending the community work programme launch, also disagreed with blocking nurses’ pay.

“I don’t think we should engage in issues like that, to be honest.”

He said he “totally backed” the government line and the need for a solution within the agreement, adding that savings could be made by cutting back on agency hire:

“I do some potential in the resolution. If we look at some of the spending at the moment, in relation to health,” he said.

I think we should look more closely along the two million a week we are spending on agency nurses, which brings us to an annual figure of €100m.

“So maybe be creative and look at that.”

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