The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation is to recommend acceptance of today’s Labour Court ruling on the new nurses contract.

The Labour Court said that health employers can engage in some redeployment of nurses and midwives and left open the possibility of variable shift duration.

The ruling aims to resolve the long-running dispute over staff and pay shortages.

INMO General Secretary Phil Ní Sheaghdha said: "This Labour Court recommendation is a total vindication for what the INMO has said about the Government's draft contract.

"The Government's proposals were completely unreasonable and we are glad to see the court has recognised this.

"There is no longer anything to fear in this new contract."

A ballot of the INMO's 40,000 members will begin on 8 April.

However, the court declined to specify a management entitlement to redeploy staff during individual shifts.

The court also leaves open the possibility of variable shift durations, but held back from explicity granting a management demand for the right to schedule shifts ranging from four to 12 hours.

The recommendation calls for restrictions on work outside of the day job to ensure compliance with working time legislation.

Strike action by the INMO was suspended in February when the Labour Court issued a first recommendation providing for a new better paid Enhanced Nurse Practice grade, and more widespread eligibility for allowances.

However, the court made those benefits conditional on the negotiation of a new contract containing productivity measures to offset the cost of implementing the pay improvements.

The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform had estimated that cost at up to €50m over 2019 and 2020 alone, but acknowledged it would be significantly higher if productivity cost offsets were not delivered in full.

The management side has never revealed its estimate of savings to be delivered from each proposed measure in the new contract - including variable shifts, and the requirement to accept relocation of up to 45km - sometimes during the same day.

However, those proposals were categorically rejected by nursing unions - leading to a referral to the Labour Court.

On the issue of location, the Labour Court said the rules on relocation or deployment should remain as per the current national agreement - the Public Service Stability Agreement (PSSA) - which permits staff to be moved up to 45km from their base.

They will be expected to work 39 hours per week, but will receive four weeks’ notice of any roster changes.

The recommendation states: "Your roster may be subject to assessment and change in the context of the Framework on Safe Staffing and may provide for a variety of shifts. This will include all healthcare settings in due course".

They will be required to cooperate with the transfer of tasks to other grades including doctors and support staff, as well as new ICT systems.

They will also be obliged to cooperate with "and implement where appropriate" strategies developed to move work to the community, and new approaches to management of chronic diseases.

The Labour Court places restrictions on the amount of outside work nurses and midwives can do, to prevent statutory working time limitations are breached.

There will also be measures to ensure an "equitable distribution of premium pay hours allocation".

The court ruled that nurses will be entitled to migrate to the new higher paid scale when they reach point four of their pay scale.

Observers will be curious as to precisely what savings this new recommended contract will deliver to offset the €50m cost of pay hikes.

The first Labour Court recommendation specifies that if the projected savings are not delivered, the pay rise initiatives will be halted.

It also remains to be seen whether the Government will impose sanctions on the INMO for taking strike action in breach of the industrial peace clause of the PSSA.

Members of the ASTI are still suffering the consequences of penalties imposed on them for striking in 2016 over the two-tier pay system for new entrants.

SIPTU Health Division Organiser Paul Bell, who represents 4,000 nurses, said its National Nurses and Midwives Sector Committee will meet over the coming days, and the challenges presented by the latest recommendation will be fully considered, permitting the union to guide members accordingly.

He said SIPTU is in the process of communicating the contents to members, and will issue a further statement in due course.

Welcoming the recommendation, Minister for Health Simon Harris described it as a sensible way forward.

He said this proposition was good for both nursing and the health serivce, adding that he hoped nurses would be in a position to respond positively.

The Health Service Executive said the Labour Court recommendation was a lengthy document and it will give detailed consideration to its contents.

The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform acknowledged receipt of the ruling.