The Government has dismissed suggestions by the Psychiatric Nurses Association that health service management is preparing to bring forward proposals for pay parity between nurses and other graduate health professionals like physiotherapists and speech and language therapists.
Speaking after a meeting between health service management and unions ahead of planned strike action over pay and staff shortages, PNA General Secretary Peter Hughes said that the management side was to revert to nursing unions by Monday with proposals aimed at delivering parity with therapy grades through savings on overtime and agency costs.
He said the employer side had acknowledged the seriousness of the recruitment and retention situation, but added that the PNA was extremely disappointed that there were no meaningful proposals put forward today.
However, when asked about the PNA comments, the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, which oversees public service pay, said there was "no basis or validity" to them.
A department spokesperson said the position continued to be that under the terms of the current public service pay agreement (PSSA) there can be no cost-increasing claims for improvements in the pay and conditions of government employees.
The department said that accordingly, the current pay demands of the nursing unions are expressly precluded under the terms of the PSSA.
Minister for Health Simon Harris reiterated that the Government would not be deviating from the public service pay agreement, which both the Government and unions including the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation had signed up to.
He urged all sides to put their shoulders to the wheel to come up with a remedy or solution, but cautioned that any such remedy must be found within the framework of the PSSA to ensure fairness and equity for all public servants.
He called for constructive engagement to see what could be done within the context of the PSSA to address the very legitimate and serious concerns of nurses and midwives.
Mr Harris said that in addition to next Monday's follow-up meeting between health management and unions, the Oversight Group that manages implementation of the PSSA will meet unions on Friday.
He welcomed what he called "constructive engagement" between management and unions, saying he was pleased that the shared objective emerging from that meeting was that both sides must work together to avoid industrial action at all costs.
Health Service Executive sources also said there was "no question" of proposals on pay parity for nurses with other graduate health professionals.
The sources said the topics under consideration at today's meeting between health service management and unions involved issues related to the 2019 service plan including how many nurses should be recruited, and the possibility of converting agency staff and overtime into staff posts.
The parties also discussed implementation of the capacity review, and the Task Force on Staffing and Skill Mix in Nursing.
The INMO has scheduled six 24-hour strikes by its 37,000 members on 30 January as well as the 5, 7, 12, 13 and 14 February.
The 6,000 members of the PNA will refuse to do overtime on 31 January and the 1, 5, 6 and 7 February.
Escalating strike action will happen in tandem with the INMO on 12, 13 and 14 February.