15/08/2021 Comments are off SIPTU Health

Unions seek Taoiseach’s intervention on health workers’ Covid recognition

Trade unions representing health workers have asked Micheál Martin to help resolve the row over recognition for health workers’ efforts and commitment during the Covid-19 pandemic. In a letter sent last Friday (13th August), they called on the Taoiseach to “intervene immediately to authorise the HSE and relevant Government departments to engage with health service unions to agree and implement the promised recognition without any further delay.”

The move reflects growing frustration among health workers, which was compounded by the HSE’s failure to put forward any proposals at a recent Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) hearing. Instead, the HSE said it was awaiting Government authorisation to engage with the unions.

Tony Fitzpatrick, who chairs the ‘Staff Panel’ of health service unions, said engagements with the HSE since last November had resulted in no progress despite public statements from An Taoiseach, health minister Stephen Donnelly and other senior Government figures, in which they supported proposals to recognise health workers’ extraordinary contribution during the pandemic.

Mr Fitzpatrick wrote: “While health workers appreciate the many supportive statements from you and other Government representatives, they have yet to see any tangible progress towards recognition for their efforts and, in many cases, sacrifice.

“Thousands of dedicated health care workers have had their reasonable expectations raised by the welcome public statements of support by you and other politicians. But they are incredulous at reports that no recognition was offered at the August WRC meeting, and at the news that their unions must now argue their case – seemingly uncontested by the most senior members of Government and health service management – before the Labour Court.”

Mr Fitzpatrick said the impasse was “deeply damaging to the morale of all health care workers who, without exception, have demonstrated extraordinary commitment and willingness to respond to national and public need, as well as Government demands in response to the pandemic.”

The unions have referred the dispute to the Labour Court, but say this should not be necessary as there is broad public and political consensus on the issue. “It can only be described as an extraordinary situation,” said Mr Fitzpatrick.

The unions say the Government’s failure to act has put the Republic out of step with Northern Ireland, the UK, and most EU countries, where health workers have already seen recognition of their extraordinary efforts and contribution.

They also point to research that shows staff who work directly with Covid-19 patients are 47 times more likely to catch the virus than those impacted through community-acquired infection. “Over 30,000 health care workers have been infected with Covid-19 since the pandemic struck in Ireland, and more than 600 have been infected in the most recent 14-day epidemiological report,” said Mr Fitzpatrick.

The national staff panel of health care workers unions represents members of the INMO, SIPTU, Fórsa, IMO, MLSA, UNITE, CONNECT, and the craft group of unions.

13/08/2021 Comments are off SIPTU Health

SIPTU says increasing pay not work permits will solve Health Care Assistants shortage

SIPTU representatives have called for a review of the rates of pay and the duties of Health Care Assistants (HCAs) in response to a shortage of staff in the sector, rather than seeking to recruit workers from outside the European Economic Area to fulfil these roles.

SIPTU Sector Organiser, Marie Butler, said: “SIPTU representatives are surprised by the call by the employers’ group, Home and Community Care Ireland, that the Government should provide work permits for workers from outside the European Economic Area so they can be employed as HCAs.

“We have already written to the Minister of State for Business, Employment and Retail, Damien English, earlier this year on this issue. In this correspondence we highlighted that there are more than 47,500 people with the relevant qualification, at QQ1 Level 5, to be employed as HCAs. It is clear that large numbers of these qualified professionals are not working as HCAs and have instead sought alternative employment.

“This is due to the unsatisfactory working conditions which are still prevalent within the sector, in both residential facilities and home care settings. These poor conditions include low rates of pay, the use of minimum hour contracts and pressures resulting from a lack of staff. In the private home care sector we are aware of HCAs who are paid the minimum wage and are not reimbursed for their fuel costs or the time spent travelling between clients’ homes.

“What is needed to rectify this situation is a review of the conditions for workers in the sector and agreed improvements rather than seeking workers from outside the European Economic Area or, which has also been mooted, some form of bogus ‘self-employment ‘where  clients would dial in for home care services.

“In order to begin the process of developing a sustainable and professional sector, SIPTU has proposed to the Minister that the Labour Employer Economic Forum establish a subgroup involving all stakeholders, including unions and employers, to discuss the issues that have resulted in a shortage of HCAs. This group should then formulate a series of agreed measures to address the problem including establishing adequate rates of pay throughout the sector.”

She added: “Ireland stands at a crossroads in relation to the care of our elderly and other vulnerable people. We can have a sector staffed by workers in precarious, low paid employment which undoubtedly impacts on the standard of services. Alternatively, we can work together to develop a strategic approach that sees us develop a professional HCA role in both residential services and in the community.

“This would create a sector which attracts qualified professionals eager to participate in a rewarding occupation providing the highest quality of services.”

SIPTU representatives are awaiting a response from the Minister concerning their proposals.

06/08/2021 Comments are off SIPTU Health

Health unions slam HSE’s “empty handed” approach to healthcare worker COVID compensation

Health service unions, including SIPTU, have strongly criticised the HSE for a lack of “tangible recognition” for healthcare workers’ role in the fight against COVID.

Talks were held at the Workplace Relations Commission on Thursday 5th August, but HSE representatives had no offer to make.

This was despite comments by Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly last week in Limerick, where he said that he “definitely want[s] to see some form of recognition for the extraordinary work that they’ve all put in.”

Unions had sought some form of special recognition for healthcare staff, dating back to late 2020. Both the Taoiseach and Tánaiste have previously indicated that they would support some recognition.

Health service employers in France, Northern Ireland, Denmark and elsewhere have offered staff bonuses or pay increases in recognition of their work and sacrifices over the past year.

The unions have referred the matter to the Labour Court.

Tony Fitzpatrick, chair of the ICTU Staff Panel of Health Unions said:

“This is yet another disappointment in the long search for fair recognition. Last week the Minister for Health raised expectations that some tangible recognition was on the way, but today he sent his officials to talks empty handed.

“Healthcare workers have spearheaded the fight against the pandemic. They have worked far beyond their normal responsibilities, with thousands catching the virus in the line of duty.

“Morale in the health service is extremely low. There needs to be some hope of genuine reward for frontline staff. Other governments have recognised their healthcare workforce’s contribution meaningfully – yet here we are forced to fight for it.

“The health unions have collectively decided to refer the matter to the Labour Court.”

05/08/2021 Comments are off SIPTU Health

SIPTU members in St Brigid’s vote overwhelmingly for strike action

SIPTU members working as care assistants and social care workers in St Brigid’s Mental Health Intellectual Disability services in Ballinasloe, county Galway, have voted overwhelmingly for industrial action up to and including strike action.

SIPTU Organiser, Yvonne McGrath, said: “The actions taken by HSE West in privatising our members’ work roles has shown a total lack of regard for their staff. This vote has demonstrated that our members will not be found wanting in responding to actions of the HSE.  It has made this move at a time when workers in intellectual disability services have been working above and beyond their duties in caring for service users who have been at their most vulnerable during the pandemic.”

She added: “The actions taken by HSE West are in breach of agreements, which apply not just to this facility but throughout the public service. Our members are simply calling for the HSE to abide by its agreements, engages in meaningful consultation and desist from the outsourcing of our members’ work.”

SIPTU member in St Brigid’s, Susan Delaney, said: “We are delighted with the high turnout of members to participate in this ballot together with the overwhelming result. The actions of management have been taken with total disregard for workers on the ground. Over years of working with service users, we have built up strong and supportive relationships with them. They know us, trust us and rely on us. The staff will continue to deliver excellent service, working to an extremely high standard, which management by their actions appears to have called into question.”

SIPTU NEC member and St Brigid’s staff, Seamus Dillon said: “Management at St Brigid’s seems to be answerable to no one. In my opinion, their actions seriously damage the credibility of the HSE. If they are allowed to totally disregard the public service agreement and don’t take any action to reverse their decision, they are in danger of bringing the HSE into disrepute.”

03/08/2021 Comments are off SIPTU Health

Unions launch RESPECT = RECOGNITION health workers campaign

Ahead of the Workplace Relations Commission engagement on Thursday morning (5th August) SIPTU. Fórsa, and the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) have launched an awareness campaign highlighting the real life experience of health workers during the pandemic. The unions are seeking tangible recognition and compensation for frontline healthcare workers’ work during the pandemic.

Such schemes have been applied in Northern Ireland, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Austria, Hungary and elsewhere.

Jackie Brown, a Forsa member works in emergency department admin at one of Dublin’s main acute hospitals, and provided this thoughtful account for the campaign.

INMO member and ED Nurse, Moira Wynne said: “I risked my family to do my job. I love what I do, and I’m 100% committed, but the unknown and extraordinary circumstances that this virus brought to the ED where I work just melted staff.  We’ve gone above and beyond, and we’re exhausted. A national clap was so appreciated but it ends there. We are exhausted on the frontline and need to see tangible recognition.”

SIPTU member and household staff in Cork, Fiona Grant, said: “I worked 6 days a week for months as I felt we all had to play our part in helping fight the pandemic. The staff have given 110% for the last year and a half. All health staff should be recognised.”

INMO member and ED Nurse, Eric Lawsin, said: “The ongoing battle for Covid compensation leaves health care workers questioning why they’ve put themselves and their families at such risk over the past year and a half. We see other countries getting compensated and it makes morale on the frontline so low. Everything we do is for our patients, but it’s important we’re looked after too. An incentive to keep going particularly when we don’t know what’s ahead would mean everything to us.”

SIPTU member and catering assistant, Luke Bell, said: “Working through Covid has been very challenging. We have worked through continuous change. Emotionally and physically it has been very tough to adapt. The infection rates among my colleagues in the health service has been sky high and some of them are still suffering from long Covid-19. These sacrifices needs to be recognised by the Government.”

Siobhan Rimmer, Fórsa member, Hospital Ward Clerk in a major Dublin hospital said: “The last year has been very intense for all health workers. We are very tired. I got Covid myself in the first wave. It seems to be all take from the Government and they don’t want to give anything back. That has to change.”

SIPTU member and Radiographer in Dublin, Aine Kelly, said: “Health care workers were forced to use annual leave for childcare as there was no provision of childcare for healthcare workers. Our employers were as flexible as they could be but many parents who work in our health service now have a real deficit of annual leave as a result. We want recognition for our efforts.”