Australian solidarity with Irish nurses campaign

Expat nurses send a powerful message to the irish government from the steps of the Sydney Opera House.

Expat nurses send a powerful message to the irish government from the steps of the Sydney Opera House.

More than 250 Irish nurses gathered at the Sydney Opera House on January 20 with a simple message for the Irish Government: ‘Give us a reason to come home’.

The nurses gathered to show solidarity with their colleagues, nurses and midwives, at home who are campaigning for better working conditions in Ireland.

The protest was replicated in Melbourne and Perth as well as London, Saudi Arabia and Doha .

Laura Phillips, a Dublin nurse who organised the Sydney protest, said she had been overwhelmed by her colleagues’ support.

“It’s a support message. We can’t be there at home; we’re across the world for the reasons that they’re striking. We can’t be there to show our support so we thought we would send that message and also send a message to the government. There are nurses here who want the option to come home but won’t. They refuse to work for the pay scale that’s being offered,” she said.

Laura explains that nursing in Ireland left her burnt-out and completely frustrated while she was earning only €30,000 a year.

Since relocating to Australia, not only does she earn nearly double, earning $90,000 (€57,000), but conditions are better with a strict ratio of four patients to one nurse.

“I was trained to a really high standard but I wasn’t able to bring the highest standard to the bedside because the time wasn’t there. It’s impossible when you’ve got a patient load of six to eight patients along with other terrible working conditions.

“It’s very frustrating. Then your pay packet at the end of the month doesn’t reflect any of this, the extra hours I used to spend. Every shift would mean at least an extra hour on the ward and getting no thanks for it whatsoever. It was just impossible to do.”

Irish nurses Helen McEnery, Niamh Burns, Laura Phillips and Sorcha Sharkey in Sydney to show their support for their colleagues in Ireland who have taken industrial action for better working conditions.

Irish nurses Helen McEnery, Niamh Burns, Laura Phillips and Sorcha Sharkey in Sydney to show their support for their colleagues in Ireland who have taken industrial action for better working conditions.

Ireland will continue to lose good nurses to Australia and other countries if the issues at the heart of the strikes are not addressed, she claimed.

“It’s sad to see because we are trained to a really high level in Ireland on the taxpayers’ money and then the other health systems reap the rewards. That’s the reality of it. That’s why there’s been such a response to this support message.

“I know nurses who want to go home. Some have gone home and actually came back out because they couldn’t do it, they couldn’t work in the conditions and be paid that. It’s not a reflection on our skills, our high qualifications.

“Every other public sector job is paid better than us. The general public have been fantastic in terms of support. These are people who receive the care, see the constraints of the health system. These are families, parents, relatives. The question that has been asked time and again is, ‘how does extra money in a nurse’s pocket help the health service?’ It’s just where it starts. They have a massive recruitment issue and retainage (sic) issue. Nurses won’t work for what they’re being offered.

“There’s the age old idea that nursing is a vocation. It is not. It is a career. We’re highly skilled professionals. Nobody’s going to stand for that in this day and age. No nurse went into nursing because they wanted to make money. I would have gone into a different line of work for that; that was never my intention. My intention was to look after patients. Patient safety is completely at risk.”

Irish nurses at Federation Square in Melbourne.

Irish nurses at Federation Square in Melbourne.

More than 30,000 Irish nurses and midwives have been taking industrial action in a bid to bring the government to the negotiating table. Urgent surgery and critical care were not affected but about 13,000 outpatient appointments and 2,000 planned procedures were cancelled. Emergency departments operated but with fewer nurses. It was INMO’s first strike in 20 years.

A planned three-day strike earlier this week was called off after the Labour Court intervened with a proposal to improve nurses wages and conditions.

The Irish Echo spoke to another Irish nurse who did not want to be named but was also at the Sydney protest. The nurse from Galway told The Irish Echo: “I think we all got a little bit emotional. It’s quite sad to think that 10 of our year of 50 (student nurses) are left at home and we’re all leaving for the same reason.

“They try to do these incentives to bring us home but not one person I talked to wants to go back to the Irish health system with the way we were treated.

“I think we’re a third world country at home compared to the way we work out here.

“The care at home is second to none but that’s because the nurses are brilliant but we’re just not treated the way that we’re treated out here.

“It’s tough because we all have family at home and all our families would love to see us at home but I know well my mam would kick me up the bum if I went home to go back to the HSE. She would send me back on a plane to Australia.”