The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) and the Psychiatric Nurses Association (PNA) have recommended that members should reject Government pay proposals aimed at addressing staff shortages in the health service.

The INMO is set to ballot members on the pay proposals - but a special delegate conference in Dublin voted to recommend rejection by 92%.

The PNA will ballot its members over the next two weeks, and if the pay proposals are rejected in that ballot, a further ballot for industrial action will take place.

INMO General Secretary Phil Ní Sheaghdha said members had been "incensed" by the proposals, which would not address the serious recruitment and retention issues in the profession.

She said that following today's meeting the risk of strikes has increased - but a decision on balloting for industrial action will not be taken until the initial ballot on the pay proposals is completed in the coming weeks. 

Arriving for the conference, delegates voiced anger at the recent Public Service Pay Commission report which ruled that there was no justification for an across-the-board pay rise for all nurses and midwives.

Some also said they were prepared to take strike action to secure pay parity with allied health professional grades including physiotherapists and radiographers.

Denise Hartigan of Connolly Hospital in Dublin said the fact that nurses were working short-staffed all the time was a direct result of the fact that they were not being properly paid. 

She said the Government had to recognise that nurses must be paid what they are worth in order to entice young students, who are leaving "in droves" to return to the health service.

She acknowledged that management was trying to get nurses back, but said the incentives were just not there - but that higher pay would have a direct impact on recruiting staff.

She described the PSPC report as very disappointing, and said she hoped they would reject this and continue to look for an across-the-board pay rise for all members.

She said she was prepared to take industrial action to achieve that.

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DCU student nurse Aoife Collins described the PSPC report as an "absolute disgrace".

She said there should be an all-out strike, as nurses are under-valued, over-worked, under-paid and disrespected - and it was time to put an end to it.

Corinne Rush of Sligo University Hospital said nurses were responsible for people's lives and well-being, and deserved to be paid properly for those responsibilities.

Asked about the PSPC report, she said whoever came up with findings had clearly never worked a day in a hospital.

She also said she believed there was no public backing for a nurses' strike - and there were enough nurses in favour of it to make that happen.

Delegates are expected to put the PSPC proposals to a ballot, but will have to decide whether to recommend acceptance rejection or to issue no recommendation either way.

In a statement this evening, Minister for Health Simon Harris said the PSPC recommendations will "benefit thousands of nurses" and that the he would like to see the recommendations implemented.

The Department of Health estimates that the PSPC proposals will benefit 20,000 nurses and midwives.

Meanwhile, the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform has said that the recommendations will see "Specialist Qualification and Location Allowances increased by 20% and that they be extended to maternity services".

It also said that the commission recommends that eligibility requirements for senior nurse and midwife staff be reduced from 20 to 17 years.

Earlier in the Dáil, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald called on Taoiseach Leo Varadkar to engage with the nursing unions.

Speaking during Leaders' Questions, Ms McDonald said the Government had attempted to ensure the report of the Public Service Pay Commission was confined only to conditions and not pay increases.

She warned that nurses were travelling to work in London, Canada and Australia. "We train the best and the brightest and then we lose them," she said.

Mr Varadkar said the Government has already engaged with the unions in the shape of the public sector pay deal.

He said: "That deal runs for the next three years. It applies to all public servants in the country. It provides for pay increases every year for the next three years to a total cost to the tax payer of 400m last year. That's an agreement we made after engaging with unions."

He warned this was as much as the Government could afford.

"We don't want to repeat the mistakes of the past and start borrowing money to pay for pay increases, because that is illusionary, all that we go back to is that cycle of increases followed by pay cuts down the line," he said.

Additional reporting: Edel McAllister