The controversy surrounding the pay rate of €6.49 afforded to fourth-year nurses and midwives has reached tipping point, with the leaders of the movement saying “strike is one hundred percent an option.” This pay rate is lamentable when you consider fourth-year nurses shoulder the same responsibility as qualified staff in all nursing activities, apart from the administration of medicine.
The conditions under which Trinity’s student nurses and midwives have been operating under is a topic of serious concern. This June, The University Times reported that nearly 60 per cent of Trinity’s midwives have felt victimised or bullied while on placement, with two-thirds experiencing adverse mental health effects. The discrepancy between the meagre pay awarded to student nurses and midwives and the minimum wage, recently raised to €9.05, has become impossible to justify, considering their positions of responsibility in the hospitals.
This disrespect seems to be institutional. With waves of graduate nurses leaving these shores for better work conditions, there is a distinct lack of proactive action to keep our student nurses and midwives working in Ireland. The recent scheme offering €1,500 to Irish nurses has been seen as patronising by many in the industry, especially when balanced against the former Minister for Health James Reilly’s remark that student nurses should “emigrate or work in the fast food industry”.
In Trinity, the disengagement felt by many student nurses and midwives with college life is often said to be due to the logistical problems presented by the satellite campus at St James’s. However, it seems that not enough is being done by the College to protect our student nurses and midwives. This protest organised by the INMO is seen widely as one of the most well-organised and united student demonstrations of recent times. It is unfortunate however, that our students have to rely on an independent body to protect their welfare.
Of late, there has been a lot of disquiet about the issue of low-paid workers, with the backlash against the JobBridge initiative and the strike by zero-hour workers in Dunnes Stores garnering significant public support. It seems, however, that in this movement our student nurses and midwives have been left behind. A significant shift in the attitude towards our student nurses and midwives is needed to protect their welfare and to prevent them from having to leave our shores in search of a better life.