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17th Feb 2021

“We need to pay student nurses and midwives now”

By Senator Annie Hoey

“The vast majority of student nurses are women, so this is also a gender issue.”

Student nurses, who have been instrumental in keeping the system afloat during this pandemic, are not being paid and continue to place themselves at risk, propping up staffing deficiencies in the health service.

This week I launched a Bill in the Seanad to end the exploitation of our student nurses and midwives and pay them. We were all struck by the horrific scenes exposed in the RTÉ Investigates programme last week, and the conditions all our frontline workers are experiencing. The very fact that we are asking our student nurses and midwives to not only work in this environment but to do so for free is shocking, and it must end now.

At the beginning of the pandemic, the Government conceded to pay student nurses and midwives a healthcare assistant salary. This proves that paying our student nurses and midwives can happen and that now it is a question of political will. The Labour Party’s Bill would ensure that this rate of pay would be set in law for all student nurses and midwives.

We had more cases of Covid-19 in the month of January than we did in all of 2020, and our student nurses and midwives worked stoically for free throughout this time. While the Pandemic Placement Grant of €100 per week is in place, it is an insult and does not reflect the extreme conditions faced by our students.

The vast majority of student nurses are women, so this is also a gender issue. The idea that student nurses are in an educational setting and, therefore, are not workers is not going to wash with me, it is not going to wash with the INMO, and it is certainly not going to wash with the student nurses. Work without pay is exploitation and the Government are standing over this practise during a global pandemic.

In 2014, some 93% of student nurses said that they were considering emigrating. I would not be surprised if 100% of student nurses were now considering emigrating. It seems to me that everyone nods and agrees that student nurses need to be paid and that the situation is not good enough, but people are not willing to put their money where their mouths are, and support changes in the legislation to do that.

Now more than ever, we need nurses and midwives. It’s time that we recognise the amazing work of all our healthcare workers, and our student workers in particular. No amount of applause or weasel words of sympathy from Government supplant the fact that they are working for free. It is totally unacceptable and must end now.

The Labour Party is looking to gather personal stories from student nurses and midwives of their experiences over the past 12 months. If you have one to share, please click here and complete this short form.