Undergraduate and graduate nurses are set to step up their campaign of opposition to the HSE scheme aimed at recruiting graduates on a reduced salary.

Last month, unhealthy the HSE said that the scheme had been approved by the government to recruit the nurses to the public health service this year. As part of the initiative, pilule the nurses were to be offered a two-year contract on a rate of 80% of the first apoint of the pay scale for a staff nurse – €22, nurse 000 in comparison with the current rate of just over €26,000.

The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) and the Psychiatric Nurses Association (PNA), collectively representing over 45,000 nurses and midwives, are opposing the scheme, labelling it as a “cheap labour under the superficial guise of an educational graduate programme”.

Earlier this month more than 500 new nursing graduates, many from UCD,  attended a rally in Dublin’s Croke Park and agreed to oppose the introduction of the scheme.

The HSE began advertising the lower-wage positions on January 11th.  Days later, the deadline for applications, which was to be January 18th, was extended to February 1st. It is reported that just over thirty of the thousand positions have been applied for.  Additionally, though the scheme was initially aimed at 2012 graduates, it was extended to include 2010 and 2011 graduates. Both the INMO and the PNA believe that this change in terms and dates “confirms that the call for a boycott of this flawed programme is being followed by new graduates”.

In a press statement, the INMO has said that their campaign was ‘further galvanised’ by the remarks made by the Minister for Health, James Reilly, last week.

“He effectively said to these new young professionals, either take this low paid job (with 100% responsibility) or you can emigrate or work behind a fast food counter,” it said.

Áine, a final year UCD nursing student, said “There’s a lot of anger. I won’t take these contracts when I graduate this year. To be paid less than the nurse standing beside you is ridiculous. It’s slave labour.”

“I’d love to stay in Ireland to work, but obviously that’s not an option anymore. I feel like I’ve been ran out of my own country…I voted labour in the last election. I was promised the internship wouldn’t be cut and it was, I was promised the qualified nurses’ wage wouldn’t be cut and it was, I was promised the sun, moon and stars and I got dirt. I feel betrayed, ” she added.

Carol, a recent UCD Nursing Graduate, said “My contract with the hospital is up at the end of February. If it comes to it that they accept these new pay cuts, I’m definitely going to apply elsewhere. Even though I love my job and where I work, It’s just not a realistic option for me… I think it’s disappointing that after studying nursing for four years, after years of free placement and qualifying as an RGN, I may have to look abroad…It’s sad.”

“At the rally, they talked about the pay scales in the hospital and it turned out that the cleaners were actually being paid more than us after a four year nursing degree in UCD. Something’s definitely wrong there, ” she continued.

Mr Reilly has shown his intent to further extend the contentious scheme for nurses towards other faculties of the health service, including occupational therapists and other professions. This contrasts the recent decision by Mr Reilly’s department to decline an extension of the State internship programme to physiotherapy graduates, as was suggested by the Minister last year.