Pay restoration and progression in play

Last October, SIPTU members commenced a campaign for pay restoration in Section 39 organisations.

This involved tremendous efforts by local shop stewards and activists in galvanising members in pursuing a campaign for industrial action where required.

This campaign including lobbying of local political activists, TDs, Senators which resulted in both the matters being subject to Dail debates and a Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health hearing at which we presented the arguments for pay restoration.

Following a successful campaign, our members voted overwhelmingly in favour of industrial action.  The real threat of withdrawal of labour was presented to the Government last February.

All along, the Government maintained the position that they were not part of this process and should not be part of the solution.

It was only through our collective efforts that Government were forced to the negotiating table.

A conciliation process was agreed by the Workplace Relations Commission and in order to avert the impending strike action.  This intervention forced the Government departments and Section 39 employers to engage in the process.

The Workplace Relations Commission recommended that the Government departments conduct an audit review on fifty Section 39 employment identified by the unions.

The purpose of the audit was to ascertain the level of funding cuts, the pay cuts and what pay restoration had taken place if any.

It also forced the Section 39 agencies to engage directly on the funding requirements for the services provided. We understand that the process to complete this audit and the delays in having re-engagements in the Workplace Relations Commission is frustrating.

During this period, we continued to agitate to ensure the dispute remained relevant.

The current position is as follows:

  • The Workplace Relations Commission reconvened all the parties on the 9thJuly 2018 to discuss the audit report and its recommendations.

The Audit recommendations included:

  • Acceptance that Government will have to assist in finding and funding a solution.
  • That Section 39 Agencies will have to present a cost analysis of the increased funding required.
  • The Chairman of the Board will have to sign off on same and will be accountable in the event an audit determines the figures as inaccurate.
  • Verification of the Unions claim for pay restoration and confirming our members had suffered pay cuts through reductions in funding.
  • A process for pay restoration should be implemented where cuts took place.

SIPTU representatives maintain that as the pay restoration commenced in 2017 that this should be reflected in the agreement reached for section 39 members.

At this hearing, SIPTU representatives left the employers’ side in no doubt of their anger and frustration at the delays in furthering this process.

We also insisted that commencement of pay restoration measures have to happen in 2018.  Failure of the Government side to confirm pay restoration in 2018 will lead us with no option but to commence a course of industrial strike action from September.

The Workplace Relations Commission adjourned the hearing to Wednesday 25th July at which time the Government side will have to respond to our demands.

If we do not get a satisfactory response we will be preparing our members to engage in a course of industrial action from September.

We have tried to resolve this matter without the requirement of industrial action, however, we will not be found wanting in ensuring our members’ claims are progressed.

The process to date has been slow and arduous. We acknowledge the frustrations and patience demonstrated by members.

We have placed the Government on notice of our intention to invoke again our threat of industrial strike action if we do not see real progress and a genuine commitment to finding a resolution to this matter.

Our members have shown great determination in pursuing this claim. We will not be found wanting in securing a fair and just process of resolving this dispute.

06/24/2018 Comments are off Patrick Cole
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Young Workers – Join a Union

Young people who face the scourges of low pay and insecure work need to engage with trade unions.

A great place for unions to start is with the 180,000 students studying on third level campuses across the country.

Every year, SIPTU representatives visit third level colleges in conjunction with the Union of Students in Ireland and embark on targeted site visits to student nursing, healthcare and paramedic courses.

SIPTU organisers and activists run campaign stands, sign young people up to the union and gather signatures for petitions demanding the living wage and secure jobs for all workers.

This year, activists handed out a new Young Worker Survival Guides full of information on workers’ rights and trade unions.

In the last few years, an important partnership has been agreed between SIPTU and the Union of Students in Ireland. Under the agreement, all members of USI can access advice and representation from SIPTU through the Workers’ Rights Centre.

Many young people today face insecurity and hardship in terms of their employment and living standards. In addition to the rising cost of education and housing, young workers often experience precarious working arrangements.

Issues such as low pay, short-term contracts, insecure hours – these were some of the injustices that gave rise to the trade union movement many years ago. Young people today need trade union representation, and trade unions need young people to become members.

Yet while thousands of young people have joined SIPTU in recent years, there is still a very large percentage who are not joining unions. While there are many possible reasons for this, one issue is probably that many young people have never come into contact with a trade union before.

Without having a visible union in their workplace, or having a family tradition of union activism many young people think of trade unions as representing “other” groups of workers.

This is reinforced through the media where most coverage of trade union activity focuses on transport disputes, public sector negotiations etc. – crucial matters but ones which might not seem immediately relevant to many workers in non-unionised parts of the private sector.

Many employment sectors are hostile ground for union organisers and so young workers in these sectors may have never considered joining a union. They might not realise that we represent people in their profession or what the benefits are.

It is crucial that the union movement explores new ways of reaching young people, and SIPTU’s current development plan layout many proposals in this regard.

Increased visibility, campaigning and organising on college campuses can be a crucial part of this. During the college visits, we found great support among the students’ union activists for working with SIPTU.

The USI has adopted strong policies on issues such as the living wage and precarious work.

All workers have the right to fair pay and secure jobs. The growth of precarious work must be challenged. Fairness at work and justice in society are ideas that appeal to all generations.

Through organising into trade unions young workers have a powerful tool for securing these rights, and as Ireland’s largest union, SIPTU can lead the way.

05/15/2018 Comments are off Patrick Cole
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SIPTU representatives say any attempt to recalibrate PSSA will be resisted

SIPTU representatives have said that any attempt by the Government to recalibrate the Public Service Stability Agreement (PSSA) will be resisted wholehearted by the membership.

SIPTU Health Divisional Organiser, Paul Bell said: “In recent days, An Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar has said that he believes the PSSA can be recalibrated. Quite simply, this divide and conquer tactic will be resisted wholeheartedly by SIPTU members in the public service. If the Taoiseach believes he can play fast and loose with the PSSA he should consider the consequences.”

He added: “If the Taoiseach wants to dishonour an agreement, for which SIPTU members voted by an overwhelming majority only last year, then he, and his Government, will find themselves in a very precarious place, very quickly.”

SIPTU Public Administration and Community Divisional Organiser, Adrian Kane said: “SIPTU representatives are on the record saying that the additional money now available must be targeted at assisting the lowest paid public servants by eliminating of the two additional entry points to the salary scale. It was always understood that the cost of rectifying this injustice was going to have be addressed by the Government with additional resources, not by raiding the pockets of existing public sector workers.”

05/01/2018 Comments are off SIPTU
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Progress made on Roles and Responsibilities for SIPTU Ambulance Professionals

SIPTU Health Division representatives today (Tuesday 1st, May) met with management of the Health Service Executive and National Ambulance Service to progress SIPTU members’ claim to review the “Roles and Responsibilities” of Ambulance Professionals.

SIPTU representatives can confirm that the parties have committed to agreeing on a document outlining the progress made advancing the Ambulance Service through continuous training and development. This document will also give rise to the terms of reference required for such an extremely important process. Our position will be formally put to Health Service Executive and National Ambulance Service management on Friday, 11th May. In the interim, SIPTU Health Division will engage with the Irish Congress of Trade Unions Public Service Committee, which is obligatory under the terms of the Public Service Stability Agreement.”

SIPTU representatives raised the issue of retirement age and officer/non-officer status with management. We can confirm that clarity will be provided on the status of officers and non-officers which is of particular interest to our members. We will circulate this information in due course. The parties have also agreed to reconvene for a specific discussion on the retirement age of ambulance professionals. As our members are aware, this issue is complex and will require external international expertise, which SIPTU will provide.

The next meeting is set for the end of May. Further updates will be issued in due course.

04/30/2018 Comments are off SIPTU
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SIPTU representatives demand an immediate halt to the privatisation of critical health services

SIPTU representatives have today (Monday, 30th April) demanded an immediate halt to the privatisation of critical health services and called on the Government to ensure that the outsourcing clause of the Public Service Stability Agreement (PSSA) is honoured to the letter.

SIPTU Health Division Organiser, Paul Bell, said: “The unfolding tragedy of the CervicalCheck scandal shines a bright light on the real human cost of outsourcing. Shareholders and profits are being prioritised over patients and lives. There seems to be no control or accountability until it’s too late. It’s unacceptable.”

“SIPTU representatives have always opposed outsourcing, not just because it is in breach of public service agreements and removes decent directly employed workers from the health service but also because of the concerns of our members surrounding the governance and oversight offered to the service user.”

“Many members of the public would be unaware and quite possibly horrified that their medical records are being analysed thousands of miles away on an industrial scale for profit. These services must be provided by the State and not offshored.”

Bell added: “The restoration of public confidence in our national cervical cancer screening programme is vital but there are also lessons to be learned across the public service. Right now, our members in the Mater Misericordiae University Hospital are preparing for strike action in protest at management proposals to outsource the Central Sterile Services Department (CSSD).

“There is a familiar ring to the arguments being put forward now, albeit belatedly, by the Government. The same arguments are being made by our members in the Mater. That outsourcing serves the interests of profits not patients. Our members also believe that the proposal flies in the face of the terms of the PSSA by not using direct labour to the greatest possible extent to deliver public services.”

Join the fight against precarious work

For all those seeking to better understand the main battle for the Irish trade union movement in the coming years, the recently published report ‘Living with uncertainty: the social implications of precarious work’ is essential reading.

The report produced jointly by the trade union-backed think-tank TASC and the Foundation for European Progressive Studies, examines the current rise in precarious forms of work and how they adversely impact on individuals and Irish society.

One of its stark conclusions is that for many, work no longer represents a reliable route out of poverty.

In the report, precarious work is identified as low paid work which is either part-time with variable hours, so-called “if-and-when” contracts, temporary, and solo self-employment (also known as “bogus self-employment”), or a combination of these employment situations.

It found such forms of employment to be widespread in healthcare, education, archaeology, transport and storage, the postal sector, the arts, media and construction, as well as in retail, catering, hairdressing, hotel work, bar work and contract work, such as cleaning and security.

Participants interviewed for the study, which included several SIPTU members fighting for improvements in the pay and conditions of low paid, contract workers, said the unpredictability of precarious work affected them physically and mentally, often making them ill.

Many, however, “could not afford” to be ill, as taking time off meant not being paid.

Many were also victims of the interplay between precarious work and that other great threat to the quality of life of workers in Ireland, the worsening housing emergency.

Precarious workers often have no choice but to rent or to live in the family home. Those working in non-standard employment are unlikely to be approved for a mortgage while renting in the private market has become prohibitively expensive.

 

This can lead to a lack of independence, with adults unable to leave the family home or lead independent lives and can have severe adverse effects on children.

From this malign influence on family life, it is clear that precarious work presents an intergenerational challenge, which if not tackled effectively will deepen inequality and drive communities further apart along economic lines.

The report does not shy away from highlighting the strong ideological dimension to the rise in precarity. In many cases, the introduction of precarious work was spun as being about businesses having to make ‘hard choices’ during the recession with an increase in ‘flexibility’ by workers key to a wider economic recovery.

Factually, this was just not the case. The report states clearly that some of the industries with the highest profits during the recession were the most relentless in the roll-out of insecure contracts. The spread of such employment practices was also driven by political pressure.

The aim was often to drive down unemployment figures rather than a focus on the quality of the employment being created in both economic and social terms.

As with the great battles against casual work practices and horrific conditions that were won in the early decades of the last century in Ireland and across much of Europe and North America, unions will be at the forefront of the war on precarity.

The TASC report presents further evidence that precarious working conditions thrive in sectors where there is a lack of worker organisation and were dreamt up by political conservatives as a way of undermining unions in areas where they were strong.

It took many years, and the production of much false, ideologically driven research concerning the supposed economic and social benefits of ‘flexible’ working conditions, as well as the opportune use of economic crises, to drive the precarious work agenda to where it is now.

It will similarly take much hard work at the industrial, political, community and district council level by trade unions to drive back the wave of human misery caused by low paid, insecure and often unsafe work.

For SIPTU members the battle against precarious work is an urgent priority

04/26/2018 Comments are off SIPTU
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SIPTU seeks equitable solution to pay inequality for new entrants to the public service 

SIPTU representatives will meet with Government officials, tomorrow (Friday, 27th April), to discuss the ending of the two-tier pay structure in the public service as part of a process established under the terms of the Public Service Stability Agreement (PSSA).

The arrangement imposed on new entrants since 2011 has resulted in nearly 60,000 public service employees, working in the health, education, local authorities and other sectors, doing the same job for less pay than their colleagues.

SIPTU Health Division Organiser, Paul Bell, said: “Our members don’t expect a big bang solution to this issue. However, they do expect the presentation of concrete proposals that outline a clear road map towards the ending this pay injustice.

“We will continue to work with all parties to make sure a fair and equitable balance is struck, that leaves no worker in the public service behind, while also ensuring that the lowest paid are given priority.”

He added: “SIPTU members have consistently argued that it was unfair of the Government to cut the entry grade of pay for workers joining the public service since 2011. We now have an opportunity to resolve this injustice through dialogue within the terms of the PSSA.

“SIPTU representatives have made it clear we will not be party to any successor to the PSSA unless the two lower entry points for new recruits are abolished.”

Striking against war in the trenches

In 1915 James Connolly wrote that a general strike would have prevented the bloodbath that was then enveloping Europe: “As workers, they were indeed in control of the forces of production and distribution, and by exercising that control over the transport service could have made the war impossible.”

This did not happen in Ireland or anywhere else in Connolly’s lifetime. More than 200,000 Irishmen served in British forces during the war. In part as a protest, Connolly threw in his lot with the Republican insurgents of 1916 and was executed as a result.

But just two years later, Irish workers did with a general strike halt an attempt by the British government to extend conscription to Ireland in its tracks.

The general strike of 1918 became possible due to the rapid wartime growth of the ITGWU, from just 5,000 members after the Lockout of 1913 to more than 60,000 by 1918 as workers, both urban and rural, tried to bring wages up to the level of rising wartime food prices and inflation.

What was more, by this time Ireland was also in political turmoil. British rule had been fatally compromised by the repression unleashed by the rebellion, but even more so by the threat to impose conscription on to Ireland in the spring of 1918 following the German offensive of that year. By 1918, there was little appetite for more war in Ireland and virtually none for conscription.

All the nationalist parties campaigned against it, including Sinn Fein and the Irish Parliamentary Party, which withdrew from Westminster in protest. The Irish Volunteers, hugely increased in numbers but largely disarmed since the Rising, prepared to resist it.

But it was the action of the trade unions which did most to defeat conscription. The Irish Trade Union Congress called a one-day general strike against the imposition of conscription and brought the country to a standstill on 23rd April 1918 – the largest strike to date in Irish history.

Everywhere outside of unionist dominated Belfast, the country lurched to a halt; transport, even the munitions factories set up for the war ceased work for the day. Cumann na mBan, the Republican women’s movement also called a day of protest, lá na mban (‘the Striking against war in the trenches day of women’) in which they urged women not to take the jobs of men conscripted for the army.

Not long afterwards the British government let the Conscription Act lapse. The general strike had demonstrated that more troops would be needed to implement conscription in Ireland than would be gained from the draft. Irish labour had struck a decisive blow against the war and for Irish independence

Combatting precarious work

The term “precarious workers” refers to low paid, part-time employees who work irregular or variable hours, or those on full-time, short-term contracts. Many people in these situations are paid only for the hours they actually work and therefore their income is insecure.

From a workers’ point of the view, a simple definition of precarious work is employment which is perceived to be “insecure, uncertain or unpredictable”.

Being forced into such an employment situation means these workers are unable to secure loans or mortgages or to make financial plans. Precarious employment is also linked to negative physical and mental health, as well as offering little opportunity for career progression.

Precarious work is not a new concept. In its current guise, it is linked to the spread of neoliberal economics and the emphasis placed on a ‘flexible’ workforce. With the onset of the global financial crisis, its increase has become a key concern for workers in nearly all sectors of the economy.

SIPTU Health Division Organiser, Paul Bell, said: “It may be a strong charge but I believe precarious work is not unlike a legalised version of modern day slavery. In many cases, bosses demand that employees immediately respond to a call to present for work. Should they fail to do so, the contract of employment can be terminated. Many workers on precarious contracts are also forbidden to work for other companies. It is interesting that this practice is accepted by employer organisations, many of whom rest on their defence for precarious work on the legitimacy of flexibility.

Surely labour market competition and restriction of trade must be a consideration for employers and these representative organisations.”

Worker insecurity: Sector by sector

Precarious work practices have spread throughout the economy. These are just some of the sectors affected where SIPTU members are organising to confront them.

Home care sector

The sector has three types of provider – public, voluntary and private. The first two are fully funded through the HSE. The average rate of pay for a public sector Home Help is €15 per hour; the voluntary sector rate is €11.50– €12.50 per hour, and in the private sector, the rate of pay averages approximately €10.50 per hour. In the private Home Care Sector, “if-and-when” contracts are the norm, meaning not only do workers lack guaranteed hours but they also don’t know from week to week what hours they will be working.

The lack of security extends to complaints made against them by a client; if a client makes an allegation against a carer they are instantly let go. Precarious home care workers in the private sector receive statutory maternity leave, but it is unpaid. While they are entitled to take holidays, it has to suit the employer. There is also a large amount of unpaid work in the private sector in the form of travelling time from one client to the other. Staff turnover is high in the private sector.

Childcare sector

There are 23,000 workers in this sector, who are predominantly female and whose average rate of pay is €10.27 per hour. They have no pension scheme, very few workplaces have paid maternity leave, and they receive the statutory minimum of 20 days’ holidays. Early Years educators get paid for the hours of contact time they have with a child per day. However, this does not take into account the extensive work that is done outside of those hours such as observation reports, preparatory work and administration.

The precarious nature of work in the sector results in an annual staff turnover rate of approximately 26%. This is a consequence of the limited scope for career progression, including pay increments for Early Years Educators. A high turnover in the sector has further implications for the quality of childcare services in Ireland because the highly educated and professional staff cannot be retained.

Third-level education sector

There have always been workers employed in a precarious manner in this sector doing occasional lecturing and tutoring. However, it is estimated that there are now at least as many people on precarious contracts as permanent contracts. Lecturers and tutors hired on a part-time hourly basis are paid for the hours they teach. This payment is said to be inclusive of preparatory work. However, they are not being paid for follow-up or administrative responsibilities. Many others are retained on short-term contracts. The implications this has for academics are wider than simply the direct impact on their lives.

It also creates an atmosphere of self-censorship, meaning they are less likely to partake in vigorous, academic debate.  Many are also constantly anxious about reaching the end of their contract and having to put much of their energies into applying for new employment rather than focusing on publishing or doing research.

Financial sector

The financial sector has also seen an increase in temporary contracts and outsourcing. In the credit unions, new entrants are being brought in on one-year, fixed-term contracts. This has followed changes relating to mergers and amalgamations, resulting in management claiming it may not be in a position to say what kind of staff needs they will have in the future. For “permanent” staff in this sector, there is also a growing trend towards ‘performance management’ which means that over a two-year period a contract can be terminated on the grounds of capability. Therefore, while permanent workers may not be contractually precarious, they do feel precarious, and this is an example of a sector where the issues facing contractually precarious workers are seeping into the working conditions of permanent workers.

Restaurant sector

Most people working in restaurants are employed on a casual basis, with part-time contracts and irregular hours of work. Workers often only find out from week to week what their hours will be. People employed in the restaurant sector often work long hours on a flat rate. Workers often report unpaid work such as doing overtime, where management will attempt not to pay them for the extra hours they worked.

Furthermore, when they are paid for overtime, it is on a flat rate, regardless of whether they worked day or night. It is difficult for workers to challenge management in these circumstances because they can be punished by not being put on the roster or having their hours decreased. Another issue is workers being asked to work unpaid for a “training period” before they are officially employed.

Agricultural production sector

During the economic “boom”, employers and agencies in industries such as meat production and vegetable processing specifically targeted certain countries to bring in migrant workers on minimum wage, with no security of employment or entitlements. Typically, contracts in the meat or vegetable processing industries would be on an “if-and-when” basis and would involve something along the lines of “up to 48 hours”. In many cases, people do not have a written contract. It is also common for workers to live together in crowded accommodation and pay rent to their employer.

When it comes to fruit and vegetable picking, workers can also be paid on a productivity measurement system, for example being paid for the total weight of the product they pick. There is a high turnover of people, and the precarious nature of the work leaves people feeling too vulnerable and frightened to act collectively to improve their working conditions.

The construction sector

Since the financial crisis, the construction industry is organised differently to how it was previously when large construction employers had high levels of direct employment. Now, the predominant form of employment for technical operative grades is through agencies that employ them on an if-and-when basis. Among the trades, bogus self-employment features highly. It is also rare for agency workers to be offered a mandatory pension scheme to which the employer contributes.

Often construction workers have disputes with the agencies over holiday pay that is outstanding to them. Bogus self-employment in the craft trades is forced on the workers; they are told that if they want the job, they must register as self-employed, or else the job will go to someone else. By forcing a self-employment status on trades’ people, this leaves them bereft of any protection in employment law.

Hotel sector

A generation ago, a hotel was considered a good place to work because there was career progression. Now it is very rare to find contracts in the sector with fulltime or even part-time guaranteed hours. This was triggered over 10 years ago when employers began to hire people with neither qualifications nor experience to work in the sector.

This culminated in the de-skilling of the workforce, and consequently, employers could justify diminishing the contract terms and conditions for new entrants on this basis.

The biggest problem for a lot of workers in the hotel sector is rostering. They can be rostered in for certain hours and on certain days, only to find out on their arrival to work that they are not needed. Workers in the hotel sector are also being pushed to do more work in less time, with housekeeping staff, in particular, suffering from so-called ‘speed up’, resulting in increased incidents of injury.

04/14/2018 Comments are off SIPTU
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SIPTU tells HSE to complete Section 39 audit or strike notice will be reactivated

SIPTU representatives have today (Friday, 13th April) informed the management of the HSE that if it has not completed an audit of Section 39 organisations by May Day (Tuesday, 1st May) union members will reactivate a notice for strike action.

The move follows a meeting, chaired by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, where representatives agreed to an HSE request to allow their officials two additional weeks to complete the audit of Section 39 organisations.

SIPTU Health Division Organiser, Paul Bell, said: “Having received a partial audit of Section 39 organisations, which had been due to be completed by 31st March, we have taken the decision to accede to a request by the HSE to extend the time agreed to complete this critical work.

“We have also alerted the Workplace Relations Commission, the HSE and the Department of Health that we are insisting that all the parties to the dispute re-engage on May Day.”

He added: “We have informed the employer that if this vital audit is not completed, to our members’ complete satisfaction, by May Day, it will face the reactivation of their notice for strike action.”