Three in five nurses have voted to accept Labour Court proposals aimed at resolving a dispute that triggered three days of strike action earlier this year.
While the margin in favour was not overwhelming - 62% for, 38% against - Phil Ní Sheaghdha, general secretary of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) said they had seen “tighter margins” in the past.
“The majority who considered the proposals accepted them by a decent margin,” Ms Ní Sheaghdha said.
She said they would now be looking to push ahead with “phase two”, where an independent expert group will examine pay for nurses and midwives in managerial grades.
Phase one benefits staff nurses and midwives, who will earn close to €2,500 more each year of their career under a new “enhanced practice” salary scale.
They will also reach the maximum on the scale in a shorter timeframe.
Ms Ní Sheaghdha said the expert group needed to convene straight away, in order to have its work done in time for the next round of talks on a new public sector pay agreement.
The current agreement expires in December 2020.
The deal the nurses have just accepted sets aside €5m in funding for safe staffing levels in 2019, with extra funding in 2020 and 2021.
Ms Sheaghdha said the commitment to fund a safe staffing framework, which sets nurse and midwife staffing levels by evidence-based patient needs, was “huge for members”.
The deal also includes more widespread eligibility for allowances, speedier promotions, extra promotion opportunities for staff nurses working in intellectual disability and support for education and training.
The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (DPER)has calculated the cost of the deal at up to €50 million for 2019 and 2020 - but has demanded productivity and cost-offsetting measures in return.
DPER is facing other challenges as almost 6,000 psychiatric nurses belonging to the Psychiatric Nurses Association are also in dispute over pay and staff shortages.
In addition, a number of unions have indicated that they will expect similar increases through knock-on claims.
Health Minister Simon Harris welcomed the “positive” outcome of the INMO ballot.
Welcome news that nurses and midwives have voted to accept the agreement with the Government. Good for nurses. Good for patients. Good for our health service— Simon Harris TD (@SimonHarrisTD) May 2, 2019
He said the Labour Court recommendations which INMO members had accepted should form the basis for a fundamental change in the role of the staff nurse grade.
“The new Enhanced Nurse Practice contract which has also been accepted through this ballot result, should be the beginning of a transformation process of the profession,” he said.
The minister said he believed the recommendation was “good for the nursing and midwifery profession as well as good for the Health Service".
"I would now like to see eligible staff nurses and midwives move to the new role of Enhanced Nurse and make sure that both the profession and the patient see the benefits as soon as possible," he said.
Three days of strike action by INMO members in January and February caused widespread disruption in the health service, including the cancellation of tens of thousands of outpatient appointments and cancellation of scheduled surgeries.
However, Ms Ní Sheaghdha said they were very grateful to their strike committees for ensuring a “safe, patient-focused strike”.
She said they were also grateful to the Labour Court and Workplace Relations Commission for their considerable efforts to resolve this dispute, and to members of the public for their support.