Forcing student nurses to work full shifts is “tantamount to slavery”, Minister of State for European Affairs Thomas Byrne has said.
The Government has been widely criticised in recent weeks for not providing student nurses with full pay for their work.
A review is underway of allowances for all student nurses, and for the payment of final year students, and Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said he is certain allowances will increase when the review is completed by the end of the year.
However, Mr Byrne insisted on Sunday that student nurses should not be asked to complete inappropriate tasks.
“The reality is that if any student nurse who is forced to work a night shift or a sleepover or even a full day shift – that is illegal,” he said on the Week in Politics on RTÉ. “That is tantamount to slavery, and complaints should be made to whoever the supervisors are, and indeed to the universities.
“These are people who go in and get 400-500 points to study nursing. There are clinical placements like there are for doctors, speech therapists, and teachers.
“None of them get paid. Nurses should not be required to work. Yes there may well be tasks as part of clinical placement – that’s what you would expect – but this is part of an education system, and they are paid in fourth year.
“Before that, they are paid in small allowances, but again they are unique in the health service as I understand it for getting even those small allowances, but they are not required to work, nor should they be required to work, and any instances of that should be investigated in the Workplace Relations Commission or wherever,” the Fianna Fáil TD for Meath East said.
Last week, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar told the Dáil student nurses and midwives who are doing the work of staff nurses should be paid for their efforts “and that includes those in first, second and third year”.
But he hit out at the Opposition over a Dáil motion calling for student nurses and midwives to be paid, which the Government rejected.
Mr Varadkar said it was “party politics, it was non-binding, it was unfunded. If it had passed it would not have been worth a single euro to a single student nurses”.
“It was designed to make the Government look bad, the Opposition look good and do nothing at all for student nurses,” he said.
“Public pay is not ever voted on in the Dáil but negotiated between the Government and the trade unions and negotiations are under way for the next pay deal.”
Mr Varadkar was responding to Sinn Féin’s Pearse Doherty in the ongoing controversy about pay for student nurses and midwives.