INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS ACTS, 1946 TO 2004
SECTION 26(1), INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS ACT, 1990
DEPTARTMENT OF HEALTH AND CHILDREN
(REPRESENTED BY HEALTH SERVICES EMPLOYER'S AGENCY)
- AND -
IRISH NURSES ORGANISATION
Chairman: Mr McGee
Employer Member: Mr Grier
Worker Member: Mr Nash
1. Financial support for all Public Health Nursing students (Year intake 2003/2004).
2. The dispute before the Court concerns a claim by the Union on behalf of 32 of it's members who undertook the higher diploma in Public Health Nursing (PHN) in the year 2003/2004, for refund of fees and salary, in accordance with a written agreement (Circular 85/2000). The agreement relates to the sponsorship of student Health Nurses undertaking the year long course in an accredited college. The dispute relates to a difference of interpretation concerning the number of students to be sponsored by the Department in the 2003/2004 intake. The Union contends that the Department of Health and Children is in breach of the agreement where it states:
"2000 intake and beyond.
All student Public Health Nurses should receive refund of fees, and be paid salary at the minimum of the Staff Nurse scale while studying for the Higher Diploma in Public Health Nursing, and at 80% of the minimum point of the Public Health Nurse scale for the duration of the clinical placement period."
- The Department rejects the claim on the basis that each Health Board would be assigned a quota of places for student PHN sponsorship, having regard to need and population figures within each particular Board's region.
The dispute could not be resolved at local level and was the subject of a conciliation conference under the auspices of the Labour Relations Commission. As agreement was not reached, the dispute was referred to the Labour Court on the 16th August,2004, in accordance with Section 26(1) of the Industrial Relations Act, 1990. A Labour Court hearing took place on the 12th November, 2004, the earliest date suitable to the parties.
3. 1. A written agreement exists between the Dept. of Health and Children and the Union. That agreement represented concessions by both sides and was part of the priority action plan arising from the Commission on Nursing report of 1998 and the nursing strike 1999. The Department and the health employers are clearly in breach of both letter and spirit of the agreement.
2.It is clear from the agreement that all student PHN's have the entitlement to sponsorship. The conditions attached to it is the requirement to work for two years with the sponsoring employer.
3. The quota system had been discussed but is not comprehended in the specific letter of agreement was never implemented by the Department. Any argument with regard to quota's therefore is invalid.
4. The Union contends that of the 32 un-sponsored students in the year 2003/2004, 29 have been appointed to PHN vacancies since completing the course. This proves that there always were sufficient in the relevant Health Boards to justify sponsoring all of the students.
4. 1. There is no commitment to sponsor students. Sponsorship is contingent on an undertaking to fill a current or projected vacancy. The Union has taken an interpretation of the sponsorship arrangements that does not reflect what is outlined in Circular 85/2000.
2. The Union is seeking the Health Boards to sponsor students in excess of their agreed quota and to offer permanent posts where no need exists. Sponsoring individuals in areas where their services are not required was not an option envisaged by the scheme.
3. The Board can only sponsor the number of students that the Board will have the capacity to employ. Quotas corresponding to the service requirements of each Health Board were clearly indicated in advance, therefore no false expectations regarding sponsorship were raised.
4. While there is no shortage of potential applicants for the courses and for sponsorship, the difficulty arises in channelling potential applicants into vacant posts in certain geographical areas, such as the Eastern Regional Health Authority. To depart from the requirement for a prior employment commitment would do little to alleviate current staffing difficulties in these areas, with consequent implications for service delivery.
Having considered the submissions of the parties, it is the view of the Court that the Union's interpretation of Circular 85/2000 is the correct one.
The Court, therefore, recommends that the sponsorship as outlined be paid to the 32 claimants.
The Court is also of the view that the parties should engage in a process of consultation to improve the operation of the quota system going forward.
Signed on behalf of the Labour Court
29th November, 2004______________________
Enquiries concerning this Recommendation should be addressed to Joanne O'Connor, Court Secretary.