Unions, the Philippines consul in Ireland and a leading recruitment agent have all warned that what is now a trickle of departures will turn into a flood, threatening a fresh staffing crisis in hospitals.
Around 2,500 of the estimated 40,000 nurses working in both the private and public sector were recruited on two-year contracts from the Philippines, most of them in late 2000, early 2001. Following their arrival, there were complaints of exploitation, bad pay and conditions, particularly in the private sector; sub-standard accommodation and allegations that they were forced to pay off agents’ fees. Now, having being invited over, they face an uncertain future.
In recent weeks, 60 nurses in Ireland, most of them Filipinos at the end of their contracts, were recruited by a single hospital in Australia, the largest private facility in the state of Victoria. A further 165 were recruited by various facilities in the state in the last 12 months. Other states have also launched recruitment drives. Don Brennock, recruitment agent, and PRO of a Filipino support group, warned: “There will be a problem. We will be back to square one. There should be proper planning and proper contracts in place in time.
We are already losing staff, a trickle of nurses that will turn into a flood.” Honorary Consul for the Philippines, John Ferris, said a number of issues were likely to fuel the exodus; confusion over the renewal of contracts, the absence of any sort of permanent contracts and problems over work visas for spouses. For those working in Dublin, a spouse’s inability to work is a particular problem because of the high cost of accommodation. Sources, however, said there are unofficial moves to make it easier for spouses of nurses to be given work visas.
Mr Ferris said workers in Australia could apply for residency after two years.
Melissa Carfax-Foster, a spokeswoman for Epworth hospital in Victoria, told a newspaper in Australia that 50 nurses recruited were originally recruited to meet shortages in Ireland.
With their contracts in Ireland coming to an end, the nurses were now being offered work in Australia, she said. However, health board officials have not noticed a particular problem in relation to the loss of staff. A Southern Health Board spokesperson said around 100 Filipinos were working at hospitals in the region and that most, if not all, had sorted out new contracts. The East Coast Area Health Board is not aware of any problems.
But INO southern official Michael Dineen said he knew of cases where nurses were told their contracts, up early next year, would not be renewed until at least two months later, in April.
Other Filipino are being wrongly told to renew their visas without having a new contract, according to Mr Brennock.