29/04/2020 Comments are off Patrick Cole
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SIPTU Workers Memorial Day Ceremony 2020

On Workers’ Memorial Day 2020, we find ourselves in the midst of a pandemic that’s having profound effects on us all. The COVID-19 outbreak has shown us how vulnerable we are to an epidemic, and how devastating the effects can be: on life, on society, on our economy.

This crisis has demonstrated, as never before, the importance of protecting the safety, health and welfare of all people, whether at home or in the workplace.

It has also shown the importance of investing in good public health care, investing in good conditions for health care workers and other frontline workers, and the need to ensure good sick pay and other provisions to protect the wages and jobs of all.

Earlier today, SIPTU Health Division joined with our sisters and brothers from the private sector and the wider public service membership of our union to commemorate all those who died from Covid-19.

Ar dheis dé go raibh a n-anamacha dílse.

26/04/2020 Comments are off Patrick Cole
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Sunday Read: Covid-19: Our ‘1945 moment’?

In the storm of this public health crisis, we’ve seen a significant shift away from a four-decade market-centred economic orthodoxy, and towards some of the principles and tools associated with Europe’s post-war reconstruction.

This contrasts sharply with the 2008-2010 banking crisis, when political, economic and, initially, social consensus swung quickly behind the politics and economics of austerity.

Driven in part by public health imperatives, and accompanied by an inspiring spirit of social solidarity, strong support for a State-led response to the massive economic challenges of the Covid-19 crisis has emerged in Ireland and beyond.

Indeed, Pope Francis himself called for a post-war spirit of solidarity in his Easter message last weekend.

Over the last few weeks, we’ve seen what can be achieved when the State mobilises financial, organisational and human resources for the common good, when people work together collectively, and when citizens have equal access to essential goods and services.

The next challenge will be to embed these principles into our economic, social and business model on the other side of the emergency.

There are strong reasons to believe that we may be experiencing a ‘1945 moment,’ where the enormity of loss and sacrifice, the scale of economic devastation, and fatigue with austerity, combine to create the conditions for a radical shift in European public policy.

And the sheer scale of the coming economic storm means we need a fundamentally different approach to the one adopted during the banking crisis.

As Irish government formation efforts intensify, any unity of national purpose will, at the very least, require a progressive counterweight to the centre-right if we are to avoid a repeat of the mistakes of the past.

This is also a challenge to the left, as the development and display of untested ‘alternatives’ will be as irrelevant to today’s citizens as they are to tomorrow’s historians.

That means trade unions, civil society organisations and others must stand ready to play their part, together, in the implementation of practical solutions.

Recent events suggest that a genuinely new social and political consensus is possible on the basis of:

  • A high-productivity, high-skills competitive economy supported by public investment in education and infrastructure
  • An economy where all workers can expect an income capable of supporting a decent standard of living
  • Social solidarity, in the form of a strong safety net to support those unable to work
  • A social wage, with essential public services provided on a universal basis
  • Flatter wealth distribution
  • Supported by adequate taxation, social dialogue, collective bargaining, and legal rights to equality and civil and political freedoms.

Without the US leadership displayed in 1945, the responsibility for rebooting our economies now rests squarely with the leaders of Europe and its nations.

In this context, the makeshift deal testily hammered out by EU finance ministers last week is utterly inadequate to the scale of the challenges before us.

The distinction they made – between debt directly associated with the virus and debt that isn’t – may look like fancy footwork today, but it will seem laughable when the full cost of economic recovery emerges.

Once the health crisis abates enough for us to properly assess that damage, the priority will be to kick-start our economies and maintain living standards, not to classify and pay back debt.

This will require effort and imagination from politicians, the financial sector, public services, businesses, civil society, and representative organisations.

Just as in the post-war period, the strongest available tool of recovery will be investment in infrastructure. Critical public services like health, education and childcare will need to recoup. Jobs permanently lost in the Covid crisis will have to be replaced. Incomes must be supported in the meantime.

That’s before we step up our response to the climate crisis, tackle the pre-coronavirus shortcomings in housing and other public services, or address the reasonable expectation that recently-introduced universality in public provision will be maintained and expanded.

The crisis has also exposed the vulnerability of people in low-paid and insecure employment, while its impact on the organisation of work – in particular the rapid shift from office-based to remote working – holds huge potential for productivity, public services, regional balance, quality of life, and the environment.

In recent weeks, we have witnessed some extraordinary things, not least the loss and fear that the coronavirus has inflicted.

We’ve also seen the inspiring bravery of our health and other essential workers, the many thousands of volunteers who have put themselves forward, and a community spirit that has both helped limit the spread of the virus and found new ways to socialise and support others.

If we build on that, our country and our continent can become more secure, more equal, more united, and better prepared for future shocks.

If we fail, we risk a descent into long-term economic hardship and political chaos, here and across the European Union.

24/04/2020 Comments are off Patrick Cole
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SIPTU to participate in global campaign calling on Governments to protect home care workers

SIPTU Health representatives will today (Friday, 24th April) join trade unionists from dozens of countries around the world including New Zealand, Australia, India and the United States in a global campaign calling on governments to protect all home care workers on the frontlines of the Covid-19 crisis.

SIPTU Health Divisional Organiser Paul Bell said: “SIPTU is supporting this global campaign to protect all home care workers. The Government’s belated change of policy on the issue of Health Care Support Assistants wearing facemasks has caused serious confusion among our members. There is also a lack of confidence in the Health Service Executive’s (HSE) ability to supply Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to all our members working on the frontline in the community. We have sought clarification from the HSE as in one Community Healthcare Organisation (CHO) area alone 75,000 face masks would be required per week.”

He added: “Over the past weeks we have become aware of Health Care Support Assistants having to purchase their own PPE, including  face masks from local pharmacies in order to maintain their safety and the safety of their clients. We are now calling on the HSE to reimburse our members for any costs incurred. Many of our members could not afford to purchase equipment and had to make do with reusing protective items. This campaign will help to shine a global light on these workers and on the issues they face in keeping our older people safe in their homes and away from residential settings.”

23/04/2020 Comments are off Patrick Cole
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SIPTU says government childcare plan has caused huge anger on Covid frontline

SIPTU Health representatives have today (Thursday, 23rd April) said the Government’s plan to meet the childcare needs of health and other essential workers falls well short of what is required by all workers on the frontline of the Covid-19 crisis.

SIPTU Divisional Organiser, Paul Bell, said: “The announcement by An Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar yesterday was initially met with huge disappointment by our members but overnight it has turned to huge anger among a large number of extremely hard pressed health and other essential workers.”

“This childcare issue has been going on for too long as demonstrated by the number of health workers presenting for sick or annual leave to take care of their children. The Covid-19 crisis will be deepened in the coming days and weeks with many health workers unable to attend work through exhaustion and the continued unavailability of childcare.”

He added: “Our members believe the Government has completely misread their concerns and produced a policy that will not work for the majority of frontline health and other essential workers. It must immediately agree a more realistic childcare plan with NPHET that covers all essential workers in both the public and private sector.

Resolving this childcare crisis must be given top priority.”

21/04/2020 Comments are off Patrick Cole
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SIPTU says government should take control of private nursing homes

SIPTU Health Division Organiser, Paul Bell, has called on the Government to bring the private nursing home sector into State control for the period of the Covid-19 crisis as it did with the private hospitals. According to the Department of Health, some 40% of Covid-19 infections have occurred in the nursing home sector.

“The Government has agreed to take over 19 private hospitals, with State funding for a period of three to six months. Meanwhile, an alarming number of the most vulnerable senior citizens in private nursing homes are dying of the Covid-19 virus,” Paul Bell said.

“In response to pressure from a number of advocacy groups, the Government has announced a COVID 19 testing programme for all staff and residents of private nursing homes across the State. Nursing and other public health workers have also been deployed in the private nursing home sector. These initiatives, while welcome, have taken several weeks to sanction and we expect that many more cases of coronavirus will be uncovered in the sector.

“In order to ensure the most effective examination and oversight of the private nursing home sector, the Government must act now to bring the private nursing home sector under its direct control using the provisions of Section 38 of the Health Act.”

16/04/2020 Comments are off Patrick Cole
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SIPTU members mourn deaths of two health workers in Kilkenny

SIPTU Health Division has expressed its condolences to the families of two health workers at St Luke’s Hospital, Kilkenny who died after contracting the coronavirus.

The workers who were employed as support staff at the hospital were members of SIPTU and are deeply mourned by their colleagues and friends, SIPTU Health Division Organiser, Paul Bell, said.

“We offer our sincere condolences to the families and friends of our two deceased members. The colleagues of these two workers as well as the members and staff of the Union’s health division are deeply shocked by their deaths. These workers have made the ultimate sacrifice while assisting in the fight against the Covid-19 virus,” he said.

15/04/2020 Comments are off Patrick Cole
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SIPTU and HSE agree redeployment of health workers to private nursing homes

SIPTU representatives have today confirmed (Wednesday 15th, April) that agreement has been reached with the Health Service Executive (HSE) on the voluntary redeployment of health workers to private nursing homes to assist in their efforts to defeat the Covid-19 virus.

SIPTU Health Division Organiser, Paul Bell, said: “Our members want to help deal with the increasing clusters of the virus among the most vulnerable service users in the nursing home sector in their catchment area. However, until now, there was no policy or protocol for members asked to provide assistance to private nursing homes which are not under the governance of the HSE.

“Under this agreement, the redeployment of SIPTU members is strictly on a voluntary basis and a volunteers register will be set up in each CHO area. Volunteers will come from across the nursing, health care assistant, cleaning, chef and catering assistant disciplines. Our members will remain completely under the management of the HSE and will be assigned for agreed periods of time. They will also be provided with an adequate supply of PPE for their tasks.”

He added: “This development arises because of challenges that have emerged in some private nursing homes in relation to staffing and their ability to manage the Covid-19 crisis. We will engage with the HSE and Department of Health for a critical review and analysis of this work when the crisis abates.”

Members can read documents below

Deployment of HSE S38 Staff circular

Agreement between HSE and NJC

14/04/2020 Comments are off Patrick Cole
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SIPTU urges immediate action to address growing childcare crisis for essential workers

SIPTU representatives have today (Tuesday, 14th April) demanded that the Government deals with the growing childcare crisis facing health and other essential workers on the frontline of the COVID-19 crisis.

SIPTU Health Division Organiser, Paul Bell said: “It is time for the Government to provide essential workers with the childcare provision they need in order to continue their work against coronavirus. The Government promised to introduce a childcare plan before the beginning of the lockdown period over two weeks ago. The lockdown has been extended and yet no childcare plan has materialised.

“Our members are absolutely committed to doing whatever it takes to defeat Covid-19 and have proven, through this crisis, to be professional, committed, flexible and compassionate workers. However, many are now reporting that the stress of working in an environment that deals with life and death on a daily basis is being compounded with the uncertainty of not having the proper support to take care of their children.”

“Many health workers are married to, or have partners, also working in the health service which is having a major knock-on across all grades and services. Some members have reported to their union officials that they have had to request emergency annual leave or in some cases call in sick in order to take care of children or to allow their husband, wife or partner to attend work on the frontline.”

He added: “SIPTU representatives are appealing to An Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, and the Minister for Health, Simon Harris, to immediately publish the Government’s proposals for the provision of childcare for health and essential workers.”

14/04/2020 Comments are off Patrick Cole
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Sunday Video: Happy Easter to all SIPTU members working on the frontline

Every year on Easter Sunday, we commemorate of the men and women of 1916, who gave their lives for the cause of Irish Freedom. This year is very different, we have to stay at home to protect those we love and vulnerable people in our communities.

While we can’t remember as a collective, it is important that we, as a nation and as workers, honour this moment that a small group of people had the courage and vision to strike a blow against Empire for a free republic. It is also important that we recognise the central role played in the Rising, by our union, and the labour and trade union movement, which had taken on new momentum in the early 20th century.

It was the Lockout that brought Pearse closer to Connolly. It is reflected in their joint influence on the Proclamation; printed here in Liberty Hall, and the execution of both men explains much of the diminished emphasis on equality in the decades that followed. It was our union’s founder James Connolly’s vision for a different Ireland – a better Ireland – that turned the movement for workers’ rights into an essential element of the broader movement for Irish independence.

Frontline health and essential workers battling the coronavirus are like the men and women of the Irish Citizens Army serving Ireland, and like the women and men of 1916 their courage, perseverance and strength is what inspires us.

Together, we will beat this. Happy Easter to all.