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One Last Chance For Procedure To Prevail Over Conflict – PNA/INO. 16/01/07

P.N.A/I.N.O JOINT PRESS RELEASE, Wednesday 16th January 2008


The failure of the Benchmarking Body to deliver on commitments given to nurses and midwives in the run up to the last general election was condemned today by the Officer Board of the Psychiatric Nurses Association and Executive Council of the Irish Nurses Organisation.  The leaders of both unions had just finished two days of meetings in which they came under severe pressure from grass root members to reignite their campaign of action which was averted in May of last year just days prior to the general election on the basis of a strong commitment that the Public Service Benchmarking Body would deal with their pay claims.

Dave Hughes, Deputy General Secretary , INO said “after twenty years of social partnership it is quite incredible that the mechanisms for avoiding industrial conflict have all regarded the basic claims of nurses and midwives as being too hot to handle and have instead passed them from one to the other refusing to adjudicate upon them based on their merit alone.”

Des Kavanagh, General Secretary, PNA said “the Labour Court and other third parties on previous occasions had refused to deal with the claims saying either, not now but they are a priority for the future, no comment at all, or no because of the knock on implications.” This latest Benchmarking Body, he said, added to this list of excuses, the excuse “it is not within our terms of reference.”

Referring to the lengthy road travelled in relation to their basic claims, the unions quoted directly from a series of Labour Court recommendations and the National Implementation Body statement of May last year.  On the 18th of June 2003, following the first Benchmarking Body’s report which had failed to respond to some of the nurse and midwife claims, the Court declared “the only way these claims can be progressed is through benchmarking”.  When faced with the claim to deal with the anomaly which sees the registered professional nurse in the intellectual disability and child psychiatric services paid less than social care workers who report to them, the Court recommended that any future benchmarking exercise (or whatever subsequent arrangements are put in place for determining public service pay) is the appropriate forum to examine the full position of the registered mental handicap nurse grade vis-à-vis other social care professionals, LCR 17805 1st of April 2004. In June 2006, when INO/PNA presented their claims to the Labour Court claiming that the benchmarking terms of reference could not deal with them, the Court after five months consideration, told them that the claim in relation to the anomaly with the social care worker “In the Court’s view such a claim could only be processed through benchmarking” and in relation to the claim for parity with the therapeutic grade colleagues “The Court is of the view that the only available mechanism by which this claim can be processed is through benchmarking”.  The Court went on in that recommendation to say “The Court would urge the unions which are party to this dispute to reconsider their position with regard to participation in the benchmarking so as to have their claims examined through that process”, LCR 18763 9th of November 2006.

In negotiations, under the auspices of the National Implementation Body of Towards 2016, during April 2007 PNA and INO offered considerable change and productivity in an attempt to have their pay claims considered.  The National Implementation Body told them, in their final recommendations in the days running up to the general election, that it had noted that the Labour Court had recommended issues of nurses pay should be dealt with through the Public Service Benchmarking Body and said “It remains open to the unions to put to the Benchmarking Body a case which reflects the very much expanded role for nurses and midwives in the context of enhanced duties, more cost effective and appropriate skill mixes and more efficient rosters as have been proposed during discussions between the parties.”  The NIB went on in their statement to ask the parties to confirm to the Benchmarking Body that the changes would “deliver significant added value to the health service”.

Dave Hughes said “the Benchmarking Body’s report had contradicted every one of those recommendations and had effectively rubbished the NIB statement with regard to the productivity changes offered during their talks.”  He pointed to 12.21 of the Body’s report which stated “As a general principle the Body’s recommendations must be based on jobs of public service grades as they now exist and it would not be appropriate to recommend increases on the basis of possible future changes.”  In relation to the claim for parity with the basic therapeutic grades, a situation which already exists in the UK, the Benchmarking Body said at 12.36(i) “The claim by nurses for parity with the therapeutic grades is generally beyond the terms of reference of the Body which are confined to the grades determined by the parties to the benchmarking process (i.e. the grades on list A).”  The same conclusion is reached in relation to the Clinical Nurse Manager 2 for whom a similar comparison was made.  On the claim for the anomaly with the Social Care Worker the Body states at 12.50 “It is not consistent with the Benchmarking process.”  They went on to say that it would be inappropriate for the Body to approach the pay of nurses on the basis of comparison with another public service grade.

Des Kavanagh said “there is a clear and consistent set of recommendations from the Labour Court dating back to 2003 which point nurses and midwives in the direction of benchmarking.  Even when the Court was told in 2006 that their unions did not consider the terms of reference capable of dealing with the claims, the Court insisted that benchmarking was the only available mechanism.  This was given considerable weight by the National Implementation Body who oversee the current pay agreement when they assured PNA and INO that the Benchmarking Body would deal with their pay claims and that, in spite of the fact that it had completed the submission stage of its work, would remain available to us in order to bring resolution of a major national dispute by nurses and midwives.  Either the Benchmarking Body have now acted totally independent of all of the other parties and refused to take on board their views or the major parties to industrial relations in this country have conspired to mislead nurses and midwives in an expedient to attempt to avert a national dispute.”

The leaders of both unions have now considered the contradictory position adopted by the Benchmarking Body with that previously taken by the Labour Court and the National  Implementation Body and have decided to go back to the Labour Court with their claims on behalf of staff nurses and clinical nurse managers and ask that they finally, in a fair, open and transparent method, deal with them.  “This will be one last chance for procedure to demonstrate that it can prevail and provide justice in a genuine grievance and that nurses and midwives who have never taken all out industrial action without providing significant cover will never be required to have to consider such drastic action.”, according to Dave Hughes, Deputy General Secretary.


“The Benchmarking Body’s report is not immune to a challenge under equality legislation” according to Dave Hughes, Deputy General Secretary, INO who successfully represented Directors of Public Health Nursing recently in achieving an equal pay award amounting to up to €17,000 per annum. He said the views expressed by the Public Service Benchmarking Body at 12.37, where they offer the opinion that finding two jobs to be of equal value would not require them to bring the lower paid job to the rate of the higher paid within the same employment, is directly contrary to the EU Directive on equal pay between men and women and Irish legislation which requires an equal pay clause in every contract of employment.  “Nursing is a profession which is 90% female and this comment was made specifically in relation to a claim pursued on behalf of those women.  The Benchmarking Body are saying that even where they found equal pay to be justified they would recommend the continuation of the discriminatory pay unless they found a second reason to justify increasing it, that being comparison with the private sector notional job comparator.  As recently as the 14th of December, in a legally binding determination, the Labour Court has now determined that the collective agreement, which set the pay of all nurses, was indirectly indiscriminatory against women and given this fact the Public Service Benchmarking Body’s view would be likely to mask and provide for the continuation of discrimination in pay contrary to the law.  We will now, through the offices of the European Commission, be asking the Advocate General to declare the view expressed by the Benchmarking Body as contrary to the European Directive on equal pay.


Both unions will now immediately commence an internal consultation process involving regional meetings of members in which they will review the outcome of the Benchmarking Body’s report, issues arising from the industrial relations strategy followed from the pay and working hours campaign to date and future options available in pursuance of the campaign for fair pay for all grades of nurses and midwives.  “Nurses and midwives are the backbone of our health service.  They deserve to have their pay claims dealt with fairly.  No reasonable person looking at the record of third party statements on these claims could conclude that they have ever got a fair hearing.  In refusing to deal with the claims the Benchmarking Body were clearly passing the hot potato of Irish industrial relations at this time back to the Labour Court, the body with the most experience and a legal obligation to attempt to find resolution for workplace grievances” concluded Dave Hughes.