Nurses at the National University Hospital received tens of thousands less in pay yesterday when a pay cut that was approved last fall went into effect, RÚV reports. Nurses have been also without a contract for over a year now, leaving vital healthcare professionals in a situation that Guðbjörg Pálsdóttir, head of the Icelandic Nurses’ Association, has referred to as “utterly disrespectful.”
In September, the National Hospital made the decision to stop paying nurses shift premiums as part of its plan to compensate for budget shortfalls. It was decided that the premiums would stop being paid three to six months after the change was announced, depending on how long the employee had worked at the hospital. So yesterday, the pay cut went into effect for some of the hospital’s most senior staff.
‘I wish this pay stub of mine was an April Fool’s Day prank’
For ICU nurse Sóley Halldórsdóttir, this meant that her paycheck was ISK 41,000 [€263; $286] lower than usual. “I wish this pay stub of mine today was an April Fool’s Day prank,” she wrote on Facebook. “It was a particularly difficult shift today—I cared for two patients with COVID-19 on ventilators…I was dressed in protective clothing for 7.5 hours with all the associated discomfort to avoid infection. Tomorrow, I’m going to work an extra morning shift and night shift because of the difficult situation on the ward (something that everyone who works there is doing under these circumstances). And nurses don’t have a contract…”
Contract negotiations stalled in late March; nurses have not voted on a wage agreement since 2014. “This makes the situation all the more difficult,” said Guðbjörg. “When the shift premiums were cancelled, I don’t think anyone would have ever expected that we wouldn’t have a contract by the time they stopped being paid. It’s a serious issue for people to be subject to a pay cut during these difficult times.”
‘It’s a real blow’
Director of Health Alma Möller sent a memo to the Minister of Health on Wednesday, asking that the decision to cancel shift premiums be reversed, at least temporarily while nurses are without a contract. During a press conference, Alma expressed particular concern about potential staffing issues in the hospital.
Indeed, noted Sigríður Árna Gísladóttir, Deputy Head of the Fossvogur ICU, the stress that nurses are enduring right now is “different than anything than we’ve experienced before.” Where once there were six beds in the ICU, now there are eighteen. Nurses are required to wear protective clothing for up to 11 hours if they are on 12-hour shifts and staff want to receive hazard pay for the risks they’re taking. As such, the loss of shift premiums is hitting nurses particularly hard and staffing may indeed become an issue in the near future.
“It’s horrible,” said Sigríður. “It’s a real blow. People are feeling really powerless and I don’t know what to do. Some are even thinking about resigning. People are hurt and angry at being treated like this.”