SIPTU has joined the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation in seeking to refer the Government's proposed new nursing contract to the Labour Court for further adjudication after describing the contract as unacceptable.

The contract containing productivity measures to offset the cost of a new higher paid grade has been dismissed by unions at excessive, onerous and unreasonable.

They have taken particular exception to management insistence on variable durations for shifts ranging from four hours to 12 hours, and an insistence that staff may be redeployed to different locations up to 45km away, including on the same day within a shift.

The contract would also impose restrictions on double-jobbing, eg by working for an agency during time off from the permanent regular job, on the basis that the worker could exceed the statutory limits on working hours.

Speaking after a meeting at Liberty Hall today, SIPTU Nursing and Midwifery Sector Organiser Kevin Figgis said that after scrutinising the draft contract, the union had decided to reject it.

He accused management of attempting to "smash and grab" concessions from its 4,000 members, and to undermine their core terms and conditions of members employment under the guise of productivity.

SIPTU Health Division Organiser Paul Bell said that what he called the "forceful" redeployment of members to different work locations throughout the period of a shift cycle, as well as the destruction of rosters, was simply unacceptable.

He said the union could not accept a management proposal that generated inequity and instability as well as undermining terms and conditions. 

Yesterday the INMO executive, which represents almost 40,000 nurses and midwives, decided to seek a referral to the Labour Court after saying the latest proposals were too onerous to be put to members in a ballot.

The INMO has adjourned that ballot for two weeks to allow for a potential court hearing.

General Secretary Phil Ní Sheaghdha warned that the new contract would see conditions deteriorate, with employment far less secure, and make it particularly difficult for women to remain in the workforce.

She said the proposed hours and locations of work went far beyond what the Labour Court had put in its original recommendation, and would leave the employer with total control, and the employee with absolutely no say in their conditions of employment.

Asked whether there was a renewed threat of strike action, Ms Ní Sheaghdha said that for the moment the INMO was going to exhaust the procedures available to them.

As yet it is unclear when any potential Labour Court hearing might take place.

The Psychiatric Nurses Association, which represents 6,000 nurses, has also described the contract as unacceptable - but hopes to further engage with the official side over the coming week.

The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform which oversees public sector pay has estimated the cost of implementing the new higher paid Enhanced Nurse Practice grade and extending allowances to considerably more nurses at up to €50 million over 2019 and 2020.

However, that is based on considerable savings being delivered from the new contract. If those savings do not materialise, the cost of the Labour Court recommendations would spiral well above that figure.

There are also significant fears that the special deal for the nurses will trigger knock-on claims from other public service grades, particularly those who are also experiencing staff shortages.

This would further boost the public sector pay bill at a time when the economy is under pressure from factors including Brexit and the cost overrun at the National Children's Hospital.