Support for Irish Nurses Down Under

A News Item by Shauna Stanley

On Monday January 28, over 150 people gathered in Melbourne in solidarity with Irish nurses participating in the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) strike. Those gathered included Irish nurses, midwives, and trade union members. The message was clear: ‘Give us a reason to come home.’

Between 2007 and 2017, nearly 20,000 Irish-trained nurses have registered to work abroad,  9782 of these in Australia. Figures from the International Council of Nursing indicate that in July 2018 public-sector nurses in Australia earned, on purchasing power parity basis, 42,446 compared with 32,718 in Ireland. This means that nurses in Australia earn nearly €10,000 more than their counterparts in Ireland, while working 10 fewer hours per week, on average.

According to the INMO, emigration is causing a staffing shortage, with the average time to recruit just one nurse in Ireland being six months. Many positions in emergency departments are being left unfilled and many nurses on maternity leave are not being replaced. Faced with the choice of working longer hours for less pay or emigrating, it is understandable why there is a staffing crisis in the Irish nursing sector.

The solidarity rally in Melbourne follows a similar event in Sydney held on January 19, which saw 250 gather in support of Irish nurses outside the Sydney Opera House. In London a week earlier, 700 people turned out in support of Irish nurses. The impact of those 20,000 Irish nurses who emigrated can further be seen by additional solidarity actions held in Qatar, India, and Saudi Arabia, with another event planned in Perth.

These Irish diaspora groups around the world gathered in support of the 43,000 nurses and midwives set to strike on January 30 over pay and conditions. If the government does not meet their demands, five more 24-hour strikes have been planned on February 5, 7, 12, 13 and 14. The INMO is arguing for the government to implement adequate measures to solve the recruitment and retention crisis in the public sector.  With 32% of the 2017 graduate cohort emigrating upon graduation, increasing nurses’ pay is the first step in increasing retention rates. This in turn will improve nurse-patient ratios, which would result in improved working conditions, and ultimately a better functioning healthcare system in Ireland.

Shauna is a member of the Tinteán  Collective