Tánaiste Simon Coveney has confirmed that the Government is taking legal advice as to how sanctions may be used against striking nurses, including docking their pay.
Mr Coveney said the Government does not want to be at odds with nurses but called on unions to live up to their part of the national pay agreement.
“They are great people, doing very difficult work, often in very pressurised circumstances. We want to be working with nurses, with the INMO and with the psychiatric nurses to build a better health service that can attract many young people into this profession,” he said.
“What the Government has said is that we are taking legal advice in regard to the options that are available to us, consistent with the pay agreement that everybody signed up to with their eyes open," he told the Dáil.
There is a responsibility on the Government to deliver on that, and that involves hundreds of millions of euro of extra pay across the public sector. There is also a responsibility on unions and their leadership to fulfil the obligations of those agreements.
He was responding to Fianna Fáil deputy leader Dara Calleary who raised the lead story in the Irish Examiner today which revealed the Government is working on plans to dock nurses' expected pay and pension increases for striking.
“Can the Tánaiste confirm this is being discussed by the Government?” he asked.
“What we do not need is tea and sympathy. What we need is respect. The Tánaiste speaks of his respect and we all have that, yet the Government allows this to be published and it will allow another picket to proceed on Tuesday and overtime bans to proceed in the psychiatric services today. The Government needs to outline a plan between now and next Tuesday to engage, not to give tea and sympathy,” Mr Calleary said.
In response, the Tánaiste said the Government does want to talk to the nurses.
“We want the Labour Court to be able to do its job and work with management and Government and with nursing unions to be able to make recommendations as a basis for a way forward that can avoid the impact of strike action for two days next week.
We are serious about that and we want to engage, but we have to, as the Taoiseach has outlined repeatedly, ensure that we do that within the confines and parameters of a pay agreement which nurses themselves signed up to be part of.
The Government wants to look at how it can be flexible, Mr Coveney said in response to Labour leader Brendan Howlin.
“That is why we asked the Public Sector Pay Commission to look at this and to look at areas like qualification allowance, location allowance, dual qualification allowance increases and a series of other ways in which we can maintain consistency with the agreement while making a special arrangement within its confines,” he said.