The Minister for Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform has strongly defended the current pay and conditions of nurses and midwives, who are going on strike tomorrow.

One again ruling out concession of the nurses' pay claim, Paschal Donohoe described existing pay arrangements in the public service as "attractive" - citing incremental pay rises, flexible working arrangements and better pension entitlements compared to the private sector.

He notes that the Public Service Stability Agreement will deliver pay increases averaging up to 2.5% a year between 2018 and 2020.

However, nursing unions argue that such increases and other benefits apply to all public servants - and do not specifically address their claim for parity with other graduate health professionals, who earn up to €7,000 more per year while working fewer hours.

In his statement, Mr Donohoe said he respected the Labour Court's decision not to proceed to a formal intervention in the dispute due to the significant gap between management and unions.

He said the Court's decision "undoubtedly reflects the fundamental issues at dispute between the parties on the claim by nurses who wish to generate additional pay increases over and above those provided under the terms of the Public Service Stability Agreement (PSSA) to which they have subscribed".

The Minister warns that conceding the nurses' claim for a significant pay hike over and above those flowing from the current pay agreement would have serious consequences for the public finances and public pay policy.

He forecasts that the estimated €300 million nurses' pay claim would undoubtedly generate knock-on claims from the rest of the public service workforce "...where there are already other well aired pay grievances."


Watch: Medical staff in Cork discuss tomorrow's strike action


He also warns that conceding additional cost increasing claims would undermine the Government's budgetary position at a time of significant risk and uncertainty - particularly from Brexit.

Under the Public Service Stability Agreement, which runs from 2018 to the end of 2020, public servants are receiving wage increases of approximately 2-2.5% a year - broadly in line with private sector trends - with new entrants and lower paid Government employees receiving higher benefits.

Over its lifetime, the deal delivers €1.1 billion - much of it to restore austerity pay cuts.

For around 60,000 so-called new entrants, including 10,000 nurses, recruited on lower pay since 2011, a new €75m deal agreed last September will deliver an additional €3,000 per year.

Mr Donohoe also noted that nurses and midwives can top up their basic salaries by up to 20% in allowances, overtime and premium payments.

When these payments are included, the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform calculates the current average pay of nurses at €57,000.

The Minister also notes that the Public Serivce Pay Commission found no general recruitment and retention issues in nursing and midwifery, and instead recommended a €20m package of targeted allowances, and some accelerated promotions.

He highlights that in the five years to December last, the number of nurses and midwives had been boosted by 3,876 (11%) over and above retirements and resignations.

The statement cites case studies that would see some nurses see basic pay rises of up to €7,000, or 25%.

Maintaining industrial peace, and avoiding cost increasing claims are an essential part of the PSSA - and breaching the agreement can result in penalties including losing out on increments, pay rises and pension benefits. .

Asked whether the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform will impose these penalties on INMO members for going on strike, a spokesperson said :"The impact of the provisions in the legislation for those who resile from the agreement is under legal consideration in the context of the current dispute."