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Student nurses’ pay: New bill comes to the Seanad today but Government hoping it’ll go “into the ether”

Why is the plight of student nurses being ignored by Government? A second bill to guarantee a living wage will be debated today but it has even less likelihood of passing than the first.


Lauren Heskin
19th Feb 2021

getty

Student nurses’ pay: New bill comes to the Seanad today but Government hoping it’ll go “into the ether”


Today, a second motion to pay Ireland’s nurses a fair wage will come to the floor of Seanad for debate. Tabled by Labour Senator Annie Hoey, the Student Nurses (Pay) Bill 2020 asks for student nurses to be paid the same rate as healthcare assistants during their training.

During the first wave of Ireland’s Covid-19 experience, Government committed to paying student nurses in line with healthcare workers for their work on the frontlines. However, that arrangement soon came to an end and since then student nurses have essentially been paying for their right to work on Ireland’s frontlines. 

As Hoey pointed out, this country has been more Covi-19 patients in the month of January than was seen through the entire of 2020 and “our student nurses and midwives worked stoically for free throughout this time,” she said.

The first bill

Government already voted down a similar bill in December, saying that they felt student nurses were being educated on the wards rather than working. This caused uproar amongst student nurses and their qualified colleagues, who have been working side-by-side on the frontline through this pandemic.

Many felt obliged to email Health Minister Stephen Donnelly directly asking him to explain exactly how their experiences in the hospitals around Ireland during the pandemic did not qualify as “work”. Seen by The Journal under the Freedom of Information Act, many spoke of the 13-plus-hour shifts without a break and their sometimes harrowing experiences during this pandemic when student nurses are themselves paying to paper over the gaping holes in Ireland’s poorly staffed hospitals.

The second bill

However, this second bill is slightly different as it is a private members’ bill and has far less chance of making it into law compared to the People Before Profit motion in December. This might explain why Cabinet agreed to let it pass into the next stage of the Seanad debate, wanting to avoid bad press for voting against a second bill to pay wages while hoping it gets waterlogged in the Seanad. When asked why they were not voting against it in the Seanad, Government press secretary said by not opposing it, the private members’ bill “goes into the ether”.

In January, Government agreed to pay student nurses €100 a week, which was heavily criticised as inadequate by the opposition. At the same time, they approved an €81,000 per year increase for the next Secretary-General of the Department of Health.

Leo Vradakar said they are reviewing student nurses’ pay, but it will not be available until September 2021 at the earlier, when many hope the country will be on the other side of this extended health emergency. For now, hopes lie on this bill in the Seanad. It must pass through five stages of debate, scrutiny and editing, first the Seanad and then the Dáil, and then both houses must approve it before it becomes law.