By Mick Barry TD
More than 300 Indian migrant workers attended a Zoom meeting organised by Migrant Nurses Ireland (MNI) and attended by myself and fellow Socialist Party public rep Ruth Coppinger on 28 March.
Varghese Joy of MNI explained that the workers are qualified nurses who came here at the start of the year on work permits to start employment as healthcare assistants.
A thousand workers came over as part of a deal arranged by Minister of State for Mental Health and Older People Mary Butler. The deal provides that they be paid a minimum of €27,000 and most of them are not paid a cent above that.
These pay arrangements were put in place despite the fact (or in reality, because of the fact) that €30,000 is the minimum earnings needed to be able to bring your family over to stay with you in these circumstances.
This means that the Minister for Mental Health has put in place an arrangement which is seriously detrimental to the mental health of low-paid immigrant workers — forced to provide crucial, stressful, and emotionally draining work in our health service while having to endure forced separation from their partners and their children.
To add insult to injury the workers are required to undergo QQI Level 5 training which costs €1,500 per person despite the fact that their Indian nursing qualifications include not just equivalent training but much more besides.
Crisis of staff retention
The background here is that private nursing homes have been unable to retain staff because health care assistant pay rates in the HSE are significantly higher (HSE starting rates just under €32K).
The Government’s deal provides them with a source of cheap labour which is guaranteed for at least two years. The workers not only have to suffer low pay and high rents, they have to do so while separated from their families.
I gave a commitment that these issues will be raised in the Dáil after the Easter recess. Workers will continue to organise with MNI and will consider the question of trade union organisation too.
Workers on €27,000 a year should be allowed to reunify with their families but we will raise that there should be pay parity with HSE health care assistants which would bring them over the €30K threshold.
Nor should the workers be forced to undergo training that effectively they already have, but if the State insists that they do so then the State itself should cover the costs.
We will also argue that these workers should be guaranteed residency after completing one year of service, and be free at that point to move on to other positions within the health service