Friday, May 11, 2007

Are our nurses over-qualified or under-paid?

Following the appearance of senior representatives of all the political parties at the INO (nurses) conference yesterday, it’s not surprising that this ongoing dispute got considerable coverage on Pat Kenny’s RTE Today programme this morning.

Kenny aired an email from a nurse who complained that she had an honours degree in nursing but didn't get an increased salary for this. She didn't know of any other situation where this would happen.

Why didn’t he tell her that she only needs to look at the entire private sector? Many employers in the private sector do provide support and one-off financial rewards to employees to pursue qualifications which are relevant to their employment. However, it would be hard to find any who automatically promote employees or grant ongoing salary increases simply because of such qualifications.

Is the Health System ending up with too many over-qualified nurses, who now want more money but feel themselves too qualified to do the basic tasks that were traditionally done in hospitals? We constantly hear of dirty wards, toilets etc. and the absence of basic hygiene procedures among nurses and care assistants.

Then on his “Friday panel” of journalists and other prominent commentators, Pat Kenny had Caroline Kennedy of Kennedy PR. She cited some income comparisons to show how poorly graduate nurses are paid.

She claimed
(1) a graduate in the hotel business would earn about €45k after 3-4 years and
(2) that a waiter in a Dublin restaurant could earn €60-70k including tips.

However, I suggest that she too should have been challenged on both those points:

(1) Hotel junior managers (graduates) would only be recruited in numbers required by a particular hotel or hotel group. Simply turning up with professional qualifications won't create a vacancy for a junior manager.

I know one such person, a graduate of Cathal Brugha St who trained in a Marriott hotel in USA. She now has 3-4 years experience in Irish hotels and earns, I think, about €35k pa., but manages staff, works long hours and unsocial shifts.

Doubtless the Shelbourne, the Four Seasons or the Merrion might pay higher rates, but they would only represent a tiny proportion of employment in the industry.

(2) Ms Kennedy probably eats in Dublin’s Michelin starred restaurants e.g. L'Ecrivan, Guilbauds and Thorntons. I suggest a small minority of waiters, working in those top restaurants, may earn such money - but the vast majority would be earning much more modest money.
Also, a high proportion of this income is dependent on tips, which are neither permanent or pensionable. Their jobs, and their income, are not guaranteed for the next year, never mind for life. How many restaurants open and close each year? It’s one of the most precarious enterprises, not for the faint-hearted investor.

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