The Government’s failure to pay student nurses properly has been criticised as “disgraceful and exploitative’” by a local Sinn Féin deputy.
In a recent Dáil vote, Deputy Violet-Anne Wynne said Government TDs from Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party voted to prevent student nurses receiving a fair wage despite the essential role they have played during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Deputy Wynne recalled Sinn Féin TDs spoke out on behalf of student nurses and voted for them to receive fair pay.
“Student nurses do highly skilled work in challenging conditions. They are the glue holding our healthcare system together. Without them, the healthcare system quite simply could not function in the way that it does.
“Throughout the pandemic, student nurses stepped up to work on the frontline to protect our communities and fight Covid-19.
“They were rightly praised by all politicians at the time but they need more than praise- they need to see proper action from the Government to ensure they get fair pay.
“The majority of student nurses are women and in other male-dominated professions, fair pay is in place for apprentices,” she said.
She pointed out Clare student nurses have been working round the clock to provide essential healthcare but are exhausted and feel completely exploited by receiving a small allowance of just €50 per week instead of a fair wage.
“They are not allowed to take on second jobs due to the risk of spreading the virus. Many are anxious and fearful about paying their rent, mortgage or basic bills.
“This is a scandalous and exploitative way to treat essential workers who form the backbone of our healthcare system and who have worked so hard and with such bravery to protect us all.
“Rounds of applause and kind words don’t pay the rent. The Government has badly let our student nurses down and it is totally unacceptable,” she added.
Deputy Leo Varadkar told the Dáil he is very aware of the contribution student nurses and midwives make to the health service.
The Tánaiste described the motion on nurses’ pay in the Dáil as “party politics”, “non-binding and unfunded”.
“If it had passed, it would not have been worth a single euro to a single student nurse. It was designed to make the Government look bad, the Opposition look good and do nothing at all for student nurses. Public pay is not voted on in the Dáil, ever. Public pay is negotiated between the Government and trade unions and negotiations are now under way on the next pay deal.
“Student nurses are paid for their fourth year, for 32 weeks, and they are counted as part of the staff. In the first wave of the pandemic, with the then Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, and I, as Taoiseach, took a decision to take on student nurses in the early years of their course as healthcare assistants.
“We did so because we thought the hospitals might be overwhelmed on foot of the surge we were anticipating. Thankfully, that surge never happened, but it was still the right decision to take them on as healthcare assistants. That was only ever supposed to be on a temporary basis and we said so at the time.
“We have provided the pandemic unemployment payment to student nurses who worked as healthcare assistants in nursing homes and who had to give up those jobs because we asked them not to be in two clinical settings. The pandemic unemployment payment is being paid,” he said.
He explained student nurses who are in their first, second and third year, like all other students on degree courses, are not paid. These nurses spend a lot of time in lectures, laboratories and libraries and on supervised work experience or placements.
He said nurses are now pursuing a degree course not an apprenticeship.
However, he stressed that student nurses should be paid where they are acting up, filling in for staff nurses or doing the work of staff nurses because wards or clinical areas are understaffed.