Action was suspended in the nurses’ strike in the Republic of Ireland on 11 February, after the Labour Board (the state’s industrial relations tribunal) intervened to recommend a settlement ahead of planned three-day strikes.
The three-day strike, which was due to begin on 12 February, was to be an escalation from a 24-hour strike on 30 January and two further 24-hour strikes on 5 and 7 February.
The dispute was only the second time in the history of the state that nurses had taken strike action, and saw around 40,000 members of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) and Psychiatric Nurses Association (PNA) taking part.
The strike saw widespread support and solidarity, including a rally of tens of thousands in Dublin on 9 February, and caused widespread disruption to the health service.
A ballot of members on the proposed settlement will take place between 11 and 25 March, after completion of the contract talks, and the ballot result will be announced on 28 March.
According to the Irish Times: “Overall the proposed deal would be worth an average 2.5 per cent for nurses and midwives, with bigger increases among younger and newly-qualified nurses.”
It would create a new grade offering with a higher salary level, and while some nurses would see a rise of €2,500 (over 7%), this includes any increases already due as well as “a series of productivity requirements and other workplace reforms.”
The deal, then, falls far short of the 12% increases asked for by the nurses, which were seen as necessary to redress stagnating pay and problems with retention in the sector.
It will cost between €10million and €20 million to implement this year, rising to €35 million in future years.
The nurses’ strike was a major threat to the government, as a particular settlement for the nurses risked re-opening its own national public sector wage agreement, and therefore its whole budget - a third of which is comprised of public sector pay.
The government was, therefore, in a weak position and will be relieved that the settlement recommends only minor pay increases. This in itself is a reason to reject the deal and push for more.
Even an unsatisfactory deal, however, has re-opened the issue of public sector pay and claims by further groups of workers are to be expected.