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Ireland's government criticised for voting against pay for students nurses and midwives

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Students have told Euronews that they are being "exploited" during the pandemic.
Students have told Euronews that they are being "exploited" during the pandemic.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Jean-Francois Badias
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Ireland's government has been criticised for voting against reinstating pay for student nurses and midwives during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A motion was brought before the Irish parliament, the Dáil, on Wednesday calling for medical students' to be paid pay during work placements.

But the motion was narrowly voted down by 77-72, with all members of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, and the Green Party rejecting the call.

The party behind the motion, Solidarity People Before Profit, says the government has disregarded those working on the frontline.

Student nurses and midwives in Ireland must undertake mandatory unpaid placements throughout their higher education before they can qualify and work in the sector.

But in March, thousands of medical students were fast-tracked into service across Europe, to support health systems during the height of the pandemic.

The then Minister of Health Simon Harris announced that students who were working in hospitals on placements would be paid on a temporary scheme, receiving the healthcare assistant rate of €14 per hour.

But once the scheme ended, concerns were raised that medical students were taken advantage of. In October, the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) warned that student nurses and midwives were being "exploited".

Phil Ní Sheaghdha, General Secretary of the INMO had also warned in October that the country's medical students "are being taken for granted."

"Extra work, serious risk, and other sources of income being cut: student nurses and midwives are getting a raw deal."

"It is beyond time to respect their contribution and pay them. The message is simple: stop exploiting student nurses and midwives".

The motion for medical students to be paid was also supported by the Social Democrats, Sinn Féin, Labour, and all Independent members of parliament.

Following the vote result, social media users shared hashtags #PayStudentNursesandMidwives and #EducationNotExploitation, criticising the government for its stance.

"We are being exploited for our work," said Ciarán, a student general nurse in Galway. "What message are they trying to send to trainee healthcare professionals?

"To be told that we are not even worth a revision of our allowances or wage for the work we provide, it's very insulting, it's very disillusioning".

"It's very disappointing and disheartening to learn that our government voted against paying us in the pandemic," added Clara, a student psychiatric nurse in Dublin.

"It's meant to be education and not work, but our services are so short-staffed that's not how it goes.

"So many of us are struggling to make ends meet at the moment while continuing to work unpaid".

On Thursday, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly confirmed that some student nurses will be allowed to claim the Pandemic Unemployment Payment if they had to give up part-time jobs due to public health restrictions.

"We absolutely appreciate the exceptional contribution that nurses and midwives, including student nurses, have made," added health spokesperson for Fine Gael, Colm Burke.

A review of the current accommodation and travel allowances for student nurses is underway, the party confirmed.

Meanwhile, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar told the Dáil that pay for student nurses is also under consideration but is unlikely to be in place until September 2021.

"We feel as though reviewing our payment should have happened a lot sooner," one student nurse, Hannah, told Euronews.

"[September 2021] is too late as the pandemic will hopefully be over by then, so any thanks we would’ve gotten for our work was a clap on a Thursday evening."

"We aren't asking for top rate pay," added Lauren, a student midwife.

"I would be happy with below minimum wage because we are still learning at the end of the day but our work is valued on the wards, the staff always tell me how they would be lost without our input."

Members of parliament who did not support the motion on Wednesday had pointed to other student sectors in Ireland who do not receive pay during placements.

But critics have suggested that Wednesday's vote result could leave a lasting impression on student nurses and midwives.

"A lot of these students aren't going to be looking at a future in the Irish healthcare service," Ciarán told Euronews.

"They're going to be looking abroad to places that are less likely to exploit them and are more likely to show their appreciation through adequate pay and respect".