22/06/2020 Comments are off Patrick Cole

SIPTU representatives to tell Oireachtas Covid-19 Committee of flawed government approach to childcare

SIPTU representatives will meet the Special Oireachtas Committee on Covid-19 Response tomorrow (Tuesday, 23rd June) on the issue of childcare for essential health workers.

SIPTU Health Divisional Organiser, Paul Bell, said: “SIPTU representatives will highlight several first-hand accounts of the difficulties encountered by essential, frontline health workers in securing childcare arrangements since the outbreak of Covid-19.”

“Our members in the health service were genuinely striving to strike a balance where they could ensure their children were cared for while also fulfilling their duties on the frontline of the health service. This balance could have been achieved with a focus on greater flexibility including roster change and special leave where other options had been exhausted. Another way forward could have been for the provision of childcare in a safe environment explicitly for healthcare workers. This model was used in other countries to ensure essential healthcare workers could get to work, safe in the knowledge their children were being cared for. Instead, the focus was on uniformity, with rigid options only being approved by Government.”

He added: “Ultimately, this seriously flawed and inflexible approach resulted in the depletion of essential healthcare workers from the frontline of the fight against Covid-19 and a financial loss for many of them. We believe these flaws must be addressed and remedied as a matter of priority in advance of any potential second wave.”

Sunday Read – Hope for a better tomorrow

Ireland is set to reopen at the end of June as we prepare to exit the lockdown following the outbreak of the coronavirus on our shores. However, health experts, the world over, say there is a good chance the coronavirus will be with us for a long time yet.

A coronavirus-tinged world without a foreseeable end may be the cause of great fear for millions of people but with fear comes hope. Hope for a better tomorrow. Hope for a “new normal” that works for the many.

16/06/2020 Comments are off Patrick Cole

COVID-19 Advice for SIPTU Health members

COVID-19 is a new disease in the human population and the national and international situation is dynamic and evolving. To assist SIPTU Health members during this time of crisis a new information line and email address has been set up.

You can read all the HSE Circulars on the Covid-19 crisis here

The HSE has developed a Frequently Asked Questions sheet that will be updated regularly.

You can also read the National Action Plan on Coronavirus here

CONCERNED ABOUT YOUR HEALTH?

STAFF AT HIGHER RISK OF CONTACT WITH COVID-19

SIPTU has sought the following commitments from management in the HSE and elsewhere with regard to staff who must work in environments of particular risk with regard to Covid-19:

  1. Wherever possible, volunteers for such tasks should be sought in the first instance
  2. For the protection of patients, clients, the public and workers themselves, staff must have the training and qualifications required to the undertake tasks and functions they are allocated safely and effectively
  3. Adequate personal protective equipment (PPE), and training in the use and disposal of PPE, will be provided along with any other necessary supports (eg, mental health support) that can reasonably be expected
  4. The individual family circumstances of staff will be taken into account when people are being allocated to tasks and functions. In particular, those living with – or whose caring responsibilities demand contact with – elderly and other high-risk groups should not be obliged to work in high-risk areas except in very exceptional circumstances
  5. Wherever possible, such workers will also receive other practical supports from their employer (eg, childcare supports)
  6. There will be equity in the application of these criteria.

ADVICE TO HEALTH WORKERS

All of us in SIPTU and across the nation are hugely grateful to the large number of health staff, of all grades, whose job might put them in contact with people who have the coronavirus.

This advice is based on HSE occupational health guidelines.

REPORTING FOR WORK

Reporting for work: General

SIPTU Health continues to advise members to report for work as normal unless:

  • You have been told not to attend work by your manager or HR department
  • Remote working arrangements have been put in place, and you have been told to work at home by your manager or HR department
  • You have a medical reason for not attending work
  • You are self-isolating on medical or HSE advice.

SIPTU Health members who are not attending work for approved coronavirus-related reasons – or on medical advice – will receive basic pay including fixed allowances from day one. Coronavirus-related sick leave will not be counted as part of the employee’s sick leave record, so long as they have medical or HSE confirmation of the need to self-isolate. But you must follow the guidelines published by the HSE which are available HERE.

If you have followed SIPTU/DPER advice and still encounter problems with your line manager or HR department, you should contact the union in the message box at the end of this page.

Current recommendations for the use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) in the management of suspected or confirmed COVID-19 are available HERE

HSE Memo re Redeployment Policy. HR Circular 15/2020

All traditional regular and rostered earnings must be considered if a review of rosters is being undertaken due to COVID-19. This review must take into account all regular earnings including on-call and overtime. The period for review is 6 weeks prior to the 20th March 2020 (date of introduction of the policy) and this can be adjusted if the employee was on sick leave or annual leave in order to get a true value of regular rostered earnings.

The clause is essential to ensure our members are not financially disadvantaged if interim rosters are introduced for the duration of COVID-19.

Reporting for work: Childcare difficulties

You will not automatically be paid if you are absent for work because of childcare difficulties arising from school or crèche closures.

However, DPER has called on managers and employees to be flexible in such circumstances, and has advised public service employers to support staff experiencing childcare problems including by enabling home working or introducing flexible shifts, staggered shifts, longer opening hours or weekend working. You can read more HERE.

Read the HSE’s circular on Childcare HERE and the accompanying guidance letter HERE. (Please note the two letters must be read together to understand the measures on offer). 

Reporting for work: self-isolating

The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (DPER) issued new advice, on Monday 16th March, on what employees should do if they have to go into self-quarantine or self-isolation as a result of the Covid-19 virus. You can read a FAQ document HERE

UPDATED: Reporting for work: Pregnant women reporting for work

The HSE has advised pregnant women to take extra care. If you are pregnant and concerned about attending work, you should phone your doctor for medical advice before attending work. Please don’t attend the doctor’s surgery unless specifically advised to do so.

You should also advise your line manager or HR department that you are doing this. The most recent official guidelines include advice on contacting work when seeking medical advice, which is available HERE. Note that agreed HSE guidelines say pregnant staff will be transferred to non-contact roles.

Current HSE occupational health advice says management has a responsibility to redeploy pregnant staff from direct contact with people with confirmed or suspected cases of Covid-19 if requested. The same advice says pregnant staff who have said they want to be redeployed cannot be rostered to work with coronavirus patients.

Reporting for work: ‘Vulnerable groups’

If you are in vulnerable group (ie, if you are over 60 or have a long-term medical condition like heart disease, lung disease, diabetes, cancer or high blood pressure), you should phone your doctor for medical advice before attending work. Please don’t attend the doctor’s surgery unless specifically advised to do so.

You should also advise your line manager or HR department that you are doing this. The most recent official guidelines include advice on contacting work when seeking medical advice, which is available HERE.

Reporting for work: Staff recently returned from abroad

Staff who have recently returned from abroad – particularly from restricted areas as defined by the Department of Foreign Affairs, should follow HSE guidelines and/or seek medical advice.

You should also advise your line manager or HR department that you are doing this. The most recent official guidelines include advice on contacting work when seeking medical advice, which is available HERE.

Reporting for work: Members who’ve recently recovered from a critical illness

If you’ve recently recovered from a critical illness, have recently been signed fit for work, but are concerned that you might be particularly vulnerable to the virus, you should phone your doctor for medical advice before attending work. Please don’t attend the doctor’s surgery unless specifically advised to do so.

You should also advise your line manager or HR department that you are doing this. The most recent official guidelines include advice on contacting work when seeking medical advice, which is available HERE.

If you encounter problems with your employer

If you have followed SIPTU Health/DPER advice and still encounter problems with your line manager or HR department, you should contact the union.

Members are strongly advised to co-operate with management in its efforts to contain the Covid-19 coronavirus, protect the health and safety of citizens and workers, and maintain essential services – including when this means doing different things, in different ways, at different times.

Guidance issued by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, which is available HERE, says staff redeployment across the civil and public services could be required to ensure the maintenance of essential services. It also called for the reassignment of staff within organisations to prioritise the most critical services.

The union is in constant liaison with management to ensure that appropriate protective and containment measures are in place.

If you have genuine concerns about the health and safety of yourself or others, or if you genuinely believe that collective agreements are being seriously breached without union consultation, you should contact the union

PROTECTIONS FOR PUBLIC SERVANTS WHO SELF-ISOLATE OR CONTRACT COVID-19

SIPTU Health members who contract the Covid-19 virus, or who are advised to self-isolate by a medical practitioner, will receive basic pay including fixed allowances from day one. Coronavirus-related sick leave will not be counted as part of the employee’s sick leave record, so long as they have medical or HSE confirmation of the need to self-isolate.

SIPTU HEALTH: HERE TO SUPPORT YOU

SIPTU Health is here to protect you if you have problems arising from the coronavirus or other workplace issues.

The best way to contact the union at this time is on our new information line 01-858 3699, by emailing covid19info@siptuhealth.ie or by filling in the box below.

15/06/2020 Comments are off Patrick Cole

SIPTU says Programme for Government contains positive proposals but falls short on key issues

SIPTU General Secretary, Joe Cunningham, has said that the proposed Programme for Government published today by Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party contains initiatives which can improve the lives of working people and their families but falls short in relation to policies on key issues including housing, childcare and collective bargaining rights.

“The commitment made by the three parties not to increase the pension age to 67 reflects the concern of our members and many other voters during the February election campaign and we intend to participate in the proposed review of pensions policy which is contained in this Programme for Government.

“Similarly, the promise to introduce a long-term sustainable funding model for childcare and early education is welcome. However, significant investment will be necessary to reduce fees for parents and support quality with improved pay for early years educators and the financial targets are not outlined in the document.

“There are also detailed but largely un-costed commitments which can bring much needed improvements to the health, education and other sectors while workers in the public service will welcome the commitment to negotiate a new agreement on pay and conditions of employment.

“There are welcome aspirations but a lack of ambition in relation to the provision of sufficient numbers of decent, affordable homes to deal with the deepening housing and homeless crisis although the commitment to end the appalling system of direct provision is long overdue.

“We note the commitment to retain Irish Water in public ownership and our union will continue to advocate for a referendum to ensure that this promise is enshrined in the Constitution.

‘We are concerned that not enough financial resources are allocated to repair the economic and social fall-out for workers from the Covid-19 pandemic and the continuing threat of a no-deal Brexit. The document does not envisage the scale of investment required to maximise sustainable economic growth and continues to rely on a low-tax model that is not suited to the economic and fiscal challenges ahead.

“There will also be disappointment at the failure to include a commitment to enact the Occupied Territories Bill given the current threat by the government of Israel to annex further large swathes of Palestinian lands.

“SIPTU representatives will engage with the incoming government to discuss these and other issues should an administration based on this draft Programme for Government emerge in the coming weeks, including in relation to the proposed commissions on Welfare and Taxation and on Just Transition.”

Standing Together and Strong against Racism

“It is the fight for equality upon which racial justice is built. Without economic equality we cannot hope to stamp out racism and xenophobia”, writes SIPTU Equality activist and SIPTU Health Division member Yvonne Mefor as she reflects on racism and its impacts in this weeks Sunday Read.

As we watch events unfold in the United States in the wake of yet another unjust killing of a black person, we must take heart in the hope that is being unfurled by the activism of society in calling out these injustices of racism.

Racism in our workplaces and communities is not always visible it often lingers in the air, so it would be wrong to say that it does not exist in Irish society.

It is important to emphasize the effects that racism and racial conflict have on the emotional and mental state of those affected by this injustice.  When institutional and structural racism become a continuum chipping away at people’s social and physical components the end result can be a mental and emotional crisis. Interpersonal racism is often forgotten in the scheme of the general health and wellbeing of the individuals.

The impact racism has on ethnic and racial minority peoples’ health and wellbeing makes it a public health issue and a central component of the political agenda worldwide.

The World Health Organisation framework to strengthen health equities globally and within countries is based on the social determinants of health.  This framework highlights how social stratification influences early life and the social and physical environments in which individuals develop and interact. Among these structural factors, biases and values within society, social position, ethnicity and race, and psychosocial factors are central determinants of the distribution of health and wellbeing in our society.

It is important that institutional, emotional and mental racism are stamped out here in Ireland. In the words of Angela Davis,  “Racism is systematic, its outbursts are not isolated incidents”.

Although many say that racism is borne out of hate it is in fact inequality that is a root cause of racism. Inequality allows people to perceive others as being less than them, for some people to feel superior and to actively exclude other people in our communities. It is inequality amongst marginalised groups, such as the travelling community and those in direct provision that exacerbates this.

It is the fight for equality upon which racial justice is built. Without economic equality we cannot hope to stamp out racism and xenophobia.

As a trade union activist, I know that unions have a critical role to play in promoting fairness, equality and freedom from violence for all workers, regardless of age, race, religion, ability, sex, gender identity and gender expression, or sexuality.

The collective action of working people through their union fighting for equality can have a profound effect on eradicating all forms of discrimination, racism and xenophobia not only in our workplaces but also in our society. As unions we can educate and empower our members to fight against racism and xenophobia so that all workplaces are welcoming and inclusive.

Through SIPTU’s Migrant Workers Support Network our union has built on its long tradition of anti-racism to ensure that we maintain a culture of inclusiveness, equality and solidarity amongst our members.

Asylum seekers have endured years of exclusion and mistreatment by the Irish state through the inhumane direct provision system. SIPTU’s work with the Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland (MASI) has seen our union  reach out to those in direct provision in their fight for their human rights to be respected. SIPTU’s hosting of MASI’s first annual conference in 2019 saw our union provide practical help as well as moral support to one of the most marginalised groups in our society.

Throughout the current public health crisis, our union has continued to work closely with organisations such as the Migrant Rights Centre Ireland (MRCI) highlighting the work of undocumented people including workers in the care sector and representing the interests of workers in the meat industry.

It is important that the voice of those impacted first hand by racism and xenophobia are listened to and amplified.  With our union we ask others to be our ally in bringing to light racism in Irish workplaces, communities and society. We know that these conversations are uncomfortable sometimes, that they evoke feelings of both sadness and anger at the injustices being inflicted, but it is only by working together in solidarity, united by our common fight for equality that we can truly change our society for the better.

02/06/2020 Comments are off Patrick Cole

SIPTU welcomes the commitment from Minister Harris to address Union members concerns over the availability of infection rate data

This morning, (Tuesday, 2nd June) SIPTU representatives held a highly productive meeting with the Minister for Health, Simon Harris, at which union officials outlined the serious concerns members have over the need for full and transparent data to be made available concerning the 7,900 health workers who have contracted the Covid-19 virus.

SIPTU Health Divisional Organiser, Paul Bell said, “SIPTU representatives are satisfied that the Minister fully understands our concerns and we welcome his commitment to ensure that all questions posed by SIPTU, on behalf of our members and on behalf of health workers in general, will be answered in due course. We have also accepted the Minister’s offer to facilitate a meeting between the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) and SIPTU Health representatives. This meeting is set to take place later this week.”

He added, “SIPTU representatives have accepted an invitation from the Minister to meet again with him early next week to discuss the concerns of over 42,000 SIPTU members, who work in all grades, in both public and private hospitals, in nursing homes and other health facilities. They need to know his future plans for dealing with the Covid-19 crisis and its aftermath.

02/06/2020 Comments are off Patrick Cole

SIPTU says health workers have a right to the truth

SIPTU Health Division representatives have called on the Minister for Health, Simon Harris to ensure information relating to the Covid-19 infection rates of all health workers is released without delay.

SIPTU Health Division Organiser Paul Bell said: “Health workers have a right to the truth. This vital information is available but currently being held by Department of Health and the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) under lock and key. We are calling on the Minister to intervene and ensure that this potentially life-saving data is released immediately.”

“The reality is that SIPTU representatives have sought answers as to why nearly 8,000 health workers have contracted the Covid-19 virus, why nearly a third of all Covid-19 infections are health workers, and why six health workers died of the disease, for weeks now.

The data SIPTU representatives have requested is simple and straightforward.

Firstly, we want the location of where each health worker contracted the virus, followed by the grade of the health worker, as well as the gender and age group. These questions need to be answered. Two weeks ago, the Health Service Executive (HSE) made a promise to release the data on the HPSC website. This commitment did not materialise which is in itself extremely disturbing.”

“We know that this data is available and we note that elements of this data has already appeared in the pages of the national press. It is our clear understanding that information gleaned by the HSE for the purpose of Occupational Health cannot be transferred to State Claims on a technicality, which the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner has been deliberating for a lengthy period of time. This posturing by the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner on a technical point about the use of information for a purpose of which it was not collected is putting the lives of health workers at risk and is allowing the Department of Health to block the release of information which it already has in its possession.”

He added: “Media reports in recent days make specific reference to nurses and midwives sustaining 35% of all Covid-19 infections. This is deeply concerning and warrants attention. However, the data published by the HPSC goes back to mid-April, and that same data also confirmed that allied health professionals, including radiographers and physiotherapists, account for 25% of all infections in the health service, health care assistants account for 17.8%, doctors 11.5%, porters 1.5% and 8.4% of those infected are currently not categorised. We suspect the uncategorised are deployed in the support services, as these are the categories in which the fatalities so far identified have occurred.”

“There is no need for any further obstruction or drama on this specific matter. The Minister for Health must issue an instruction that this information be immediately released. This is not only in the public interest, but in the interest of the health and safety of all health workers. Workers we all rely upon to protect us, in this time of anxiety and uncertainty.”

31/05/2020 Comments are off Patrick Cole

President Higgins pays tribute to essential workers

President Michael D Higgins has paid tribute to the contribution of frontline and essential workers during the coronavirus outbreak.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Late Late Show, President Higgins said consideration needed to be given to how frontline and essential workers are paid, their job security and working conditions.

The President said: “To think that of all those infected, 34% are people who are delivering themselves into the shadow of Covid every day and I thought not only of them but they have to leave home and their families behind.

“And the others who stand behind, the people who do the cleaning, the postmen who go from house-to-house. These are the essential workers, society couldn’t function without them. We pay tribute to them and thank them but we wouldn’t just want to leave it that.

“We have to ask ourselves a question – have we underrated the contribution of this most important part of our lives? We need to follow through and look at how they are remunerated, their security and the conditions they are asked to work in. So that is why it is appropriate that we are discussing this in front of the Starry Plough, a monument that celebrates workers.”

On Saturday, SIPTU members Clare Geraghty and Vincent Kearns spoke to RTE News about the vital role of all health and essential workers on the frontline of the battle to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

“The health system is like an iceberg, you never get to see what’s underneath…the kitchen, cleaners and porters don’t get recognised enough for the hard work we do.”

You can watch the full video here ↓

24/05/2020 Comments are off Patrick Cole

SIPTU demands a voice for health workers on Nursing Home Expert Panel

SIPTU Health representatives have today (Sunday 24th, May) condemned the failure of Government to include a voice for health workers on the Nursing Home Expert Panel, established by Minister  for Health, Simon Harris, in response to the performance of the sector dealing with the Covid-19 outbreak.

SIPTU Health Divisional Organiser Paul Bell said: “We suspect that their voice has been excluded on the grounds that many of the most pertinent questions posed to the Health Service Executive and the Department of Health since the Covid-19 emergency began have been submitted by SIPTU and other unions. SIPTU representatives regularly posed questions on the unavailability of PPE, safe staffing levels, the non-availability of skilled staff and highlighted a history of poor treatment of staff in this sector for years, especially in relation to pay and protection of staff. We also raised serious concerns over the heavy reliance of agency staff, many of whom travel from facility to facility. We believe these questions cut to the core of the crisis in nursing homes and the public requires answers to ensure that what has gone on in the private nursing home sector is never to be repeated.”

He added: “SIPTU represents thousands of health workers located in both private and public nursing homes and we strongly believe that the concerns and experiences of these workers must be told. Many of our members working in these settings contracted COVID 19 and the staffing models in many private nursing home facilities exposed workers to long hours and extreme fatigue. These are two burning issues in this sector and workers want to see them addressed.”

SIPTU representatives have written to the health minister requesting trade union representation on the expert panel and also have demanded a detailed breakdown on how private nursing home operators spent the €73 million allocated to them by the Government since the Covid-19 crisis began.