Up to 3,000 protesters marched through Dublin and staged a rally at the Department of Health on Wednesday February 16th over proposals to phase out payments to fourth-year students working during a nine-month internship.

The student nurses and midwives’ pay is to be cut and eventually phased out. Students currently get 80% of the minimum rate staff nurse salary during a nine-month placement in hospitals.

Under the pay cut plan, both student nurses and midwives would see their pay fall by 65% up to 2014 and be paid no salary at all from 2015, according to their union, the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO).

INMO General Secretary Liam Doran pointed out student nurses and midwives work full 12-hour shifts while engaging in the placement programmes and that the student workers replace staff nurses and midwives; he said that by refusing to pay them, the government was attempting to introduce slave labour.

Mr Doran said nurses and midwives would not vote for parties that did not pledge to reverse the cuts in payments.

He said under the Government’s plans pre-registration nurses and midwives would be the only grade in the public service expected to work for nothing.

"No one can seriously expect people to work the full roster and range of duties, while replacing qualified staff, for no pay," said Mr Doran.  “This is a flawed, ill-thought-out and unnecessary decision, made by an out-going government, which is insulting to every nurse and midwife in this country.”

Last week, Minister for Health Mary Coughlan said there would be a review of the decision to abolish the payments from 2015.

However, Mr Doran said that the planned review was “inadequate”. He added that the Minister’s statement still suggested that some level of cut would take place.