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Nursing unions in some areas of Ireland have advised agency workers not to accept the new lower pay rates set by the Health Service Executive (HSE), which are estimated to save over 40 million Euro per year out of a total annual agency spend of 184 million Euro, broadcasting service RTE reports.
The Psychiatric Nurses' Association said agency nurses appeared unanimous in not signing up to the new lower-paid contracts. General Secretary, Des Kavanagh, said that "services as a result are facing a far more serious threat than in the event of a strike." Deputy General Secretary of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation, Dave Hughes, advised members, "If you work for less you will continue to be paid less, and we cannot guarantee that you will ever have a restoration of the appropriate rate of pay for nurses and midwives."
Nursing unions said yesterday some services were affected in Cork, in the Midlands and in Limerick. At Cork University Maternity Hospital, 14 out of 16 agency midwives made themselves unavailable for duty yesterday.
The tougher recruitment contracts with staffing agencies have resulted in lower pay rates from yesterday for doctors, nurses, support and other professional staff.
Up to now, agency nurses were paid at the 10th point on the staff nurse pay scale, regardless of experience. Under the revised plans, nurses with less than two years' experience will be paid at the minimum point of the new, lower entry scale introduced. Other staff will be paid on the fifth point of the existing scale.
Unions claim agency nurses will also receive reduced payments for working at night, on Sundays and on public holidays. According to the Irish Independent, the actual impact on agency nurses' hourly gross pay under the new contracts is a reduction from 21 Euro per hour to 14 Euro per hour.
The HSE said that a small number of hospitals may have to postpone elective surgery because agency staff have not presented for work. The HSE has stressed that at the moment there is no risk to patient safety and that it is putting contingency arrangements in place.
Apart from lower pay for agency staff, the agencies themselves have also reduced their commissions.
Catherine Kennedy Arnold, Managing Director of staffing agency Nurse on Call, said that the agency has cut its commission from 10% to 5.5%.
Kennedy Arnold said further that hundreds of new agency staff have been recruited over the past few weeks and that Nurse on Call is working with the HSE on local problems, which are not expected to become major issues.
In a further blow to Irish healthcare staffing agencies, the HSE is also considering whether exceptions can be made to the public sector recruitment moratorium so that agency or overtime hours can be reduced through the employment of additional permanent nurses paid at entry level rates.
Talks aimed at finding a settlement to the issue are scheduled to take place tomorrow.