Student nurses 'exploited' as 'slave labour' amid Covid 'warzone'

Student nurses 'exploited' as 'slave labour' amid Covid 'warzone'

The Dáil heard that 4,000 students nurses and midwives have been working on the frontline during the Covid-19 pandemic, however, they only receive a €50.79 weekly allowance.

Student nurses are being "exploited" and used as "slave labour", the Dáil has heard.

The Government has been slammed for refusing to pay student nurses and midwives the same rate as health care assistants.

The Dáil heard that 4,000 students nurses and midwives have been working on the frontline during the Covid-19 pandemic, however, they only receive a €50.79 weekly allowance and cannot work outside the hospital where they do placement due to the risk of spreading the virus.

Solidarity-PBP TD Mick Barry said student nurses are being "exploited" and pointed to Australia, where student nurses and midwives are often paid more than €15 per hour, and Canada where they receive more than €12 per hour.

"Thousands of people, without whose toil the health service would collapse, are paid nothing.

"What does this say about our treatment of our young people? What does it say about our treatment of women? The majority of student nurses and midwives are young and the vast majority are women."

Is their exploitation a reflection of gender inequality? Of course, it is.

He said the most dangerous job in Ireland in 2020 is that of a healthcare worker as one in six of all Covid-19 cases have been among those working in this area.

The Solidarity-PBP motion calling on the Government to pay student nurses also calls for the abolishment of fees of between €3,000 and €7,500 for students who are training to work on the frontline in order to stem the “brain drain” and allow the HSE to recruit a sufficient number of staff to run the health service at safe and adequately staffed levels.

However, the Government will not support the motion and instead have tabled amendments to it.

A number of opposition TDs hit out at Health Minister Stephen Donnelly for not attending the Dáil debate and claimed it was an "insult" to student nurses.

Junior Minister in the Department of Health Mary Butler said she would bring the concerns raised around the €100 registration fee that must also be paid each year, back to the minister.

Sinn Féin health spokesperson, David Cullinane, said student nurses are the glue holding our public health system together and must be paid.

“They perform duties far beyond their educational requirements, often filling gaps in employment caused by illness or vacancies.

He said students have had to forego part-time work, that they need to pay rent and bills, to protect patients they care for on placement, but this loss of income has not been recognised by the Government.

Fellow Sinn Féin TD Louise O'Reilly read out a text she received from a student nurse which stated: "I pay for the privilege of propping up an understaffed system."

Labour leader Alan Kelly said he has been contacted by nurses who came home from abroad to help fight Covid, however, he said they are leaving again as they cannot get permanent jobs in Ireland.

He described the treatment of student nurses as "slave labour".

Social Democrat co-leader Roisín Shortall said nurses had been through the equivalent of a "warzone" this year.

Independent TD Sean Canny described student nurses as "young, bright and brave" but says they are being treated with "disrespect".

Solidarity PBP TD, Richard Boyd Barrett said the Government's amendment to the motion was "cold-hearted".

“Politicians of all persuasions in the Dáil clapped and saluted these frontline workers who have been battling this crisis and keeping us all safe, and yet when the rubber hits the road, they would deny these workers a very basic scheme of remuneration and respect.

"The student nurses stood up when they were called on to protect the people of this country and now the Government slaps them down.”

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