Support the Nurses fight for 10% wage rise and 35 hour week


The nurses’ work-to-rule and their threat to escalate the action next week has been met with an outraged onslaught by Mary Harney and Bertie Ahern. The sight of a group of workers standing up and demanding their rights has become so unusual that it seems as if the government cannot believe the temerity of the nurses in doing just that.

Nurses – through the Irish Nurses Organisation and the Psychiatric Nurses Association – have put forward two key demands
· A 10% pay increase to bring their pay back in line with other health workers
· The introduction of a 35-hour working week, again bringing their working hours in line with other health workers

That nurses should be entitled to a 35-hour week is not a new demand. In fact 27 years ago the Labour Court recommended that nurses should benefit from a reduced working week.

Discussions and negotiations on the demand to bring nurses’ pay in line with other health workers have been ongoing for approx 6 years.

The work-to-rule commenced 60 days after the nurses’ unions served notice on their employers. So if contingency plans have not been put in place the responsibility rests solely with the HSE and the Department of Health. And if people want someone to blame for this action, the finger of blame should point squarely at the Minister for Health and HSE officials who have had plenty of time to meet the nurses’ demands but have chosen not to do so.

A political decision has been made to take the nurses on and attempt to break their unions, because they have had the courage to step outside of the cosy ‘partnership’ consensus and behave as a trade union is supposed to do.

It behoves all workers to stand shoulder to shoulder with the nurses in their struggle. The last twenty years of so-called ‘social partnership’ have seen our unions turned into pale imitations of what they used to be. This period has seen the portion of national wealth going to employers and the rich in the form of profits, dividends, interest and rent rise from 31% to 41%. At the same time the share of the economy going to the working class in wages, pensions and social security has declined from 69% to 50%.

In other words, ‘social partnership’ has resulted in a huge transfer of wealth from workers to employers. It is no wonder that employers and the government are so anxious to preserve it and are so scared by the sight of the nurses standing up for their rights.

What a shame that the other nurses’ union, SIPTU, haven’t stood by their fellow-workers. A united stand by all workers would have been so much more powerful. Nonetheless there is an onus on all workers to support the nurses’ stand. The trade union movement was built on the premise of solidarity. If we all show solidarity with the nurses in this tradition, they can be successful.

The government has engaged in a Public Relations onslaught against the nurses and their unions. In coming days, and especially as their industrial action escalates, it is important that all trade unionists show clearly that we are on the side of justice and fair play, and that we won’t be taken in by the PR-spin.

‘Social partnership’ and benchmarking are the antithesis of what real trade unionism should be about. Victory for the nurses might just be a spark which would re-ignite some real trade unionism.