Strike action "100% an option" for underpaid student nurses

An online campaign to implement minimum wage for fourth year nursing and midwifery interns has gained support from students’ unions around the country, including UCD SU. “Equality for Nursing & Midwifery Interns” aims to implement minimum wage for nursing and midwifery interns, who are currently being paid an “exploitative” €6.49 per hour. Coordinator of the movement, NUIG student Aoife Kiernan, says that “To pay any working professional below minimum wage for their work is exploitation. National Minimum Standards of Wage are set for the reason that at this rate of pay in the given economy a person can sustain an average standard of living.” Kiernan continued, “As intern nurses we complete the same job as Registered Staff Nurses with the exception of drug administration and intra venous products which are not included in our scope of practice. As interns we are assigned patients just as staff nurses and provide their entire nursing care excluding the tasks above throughout our shift. We take full responsibility for all of the care we provide to them and are fully responsible.”The movement has gained backing from Fine Gael counsellor Paddy Meade, the Workers’ party, and student unions from UCD, NUIG, Athlone IT and St Angela’s, as well as almost 6,000 supporters on Facebook.The HSE are currently undertaking an internal review of the payment of student nurses following a request from the Irish Nurses’ and Midwives Association (INMO) on the recommendation of the Labour Court. The HSE response was initially due on the 16th of October, but were granted an extension by the INMO until the first week of November, saying that they required “further time” to complete it.The INMO will meet with class reps in early November to discuss protest action if progress hasn’t been made, including a potential national protest in December and industrial action in February.Kiernan has not ruled out strike action, saying, “While strike is 100 per cent an option, it will only be used as a last resort. The Intern nurses have no intention of causing any further additional stress to hospitals nationwide by initiating strike proceedings.”Dean of Nursing and Midwifery, Dr Martin McNamara, said that "When the programmes commenced in 2002, nursing and midwifery students were paid 80% of a first-year staff nurse salary. 50% is much too low, in my opinion, and I think restoration of the 80% level would be a good start."However, Dr McNamara also commented that strike action could potentially impact negatively on student completion times. "It is not my role or that of UCD to endorse or oppose strike action on the part of students even though all of us involved in nursing and midwifery education understand and appreciate the pressures under which our students are working and studying. As Dean, I would be concerned about the impact on student progression and completion times and the difficulties in making up any clinical time lost as it can be very difficult to negotiate clinical placements with health service partners who are themselves operating under considerable resource constraints. I'm not convinced that all alternative courses of action have yet been considered and the universities have not been a party to any discussions to date."A fourth year UCD student, who chose to remain anonymous, says: “We aren’t paid for our initial three years of study, which is fair, we’re very inexperienced, and lack the knowledge and ability to independently make a valuable contribution to someone’s care. However, this changes in our fourth year. We transition to an internship where we are counted as staff, we’re seen as valuable members of the team who are capable of performing tasks with minimal supervision.”The student continued, “€6.49 an hour for what we do is not just unfair, it belittles what we do, and how hard we work. It’s penalising those who have already accepted that their profession is more important than the money earned.”This UCD student intends on showing solidarity to her colleagues and will take part in any strike action that occurs. “Although my current plan is not to stay in the fields of Midwifery or Nursing, I do intend to stay in healthcare, and so will take part in any strike action that results. I will not cross the picket of my colleagues who I have shared so many experiences with.”