Public service unions affiliated to the Irish Congress of Trade Unions today (Tuesday) endorsed a new public service agreement after 13 out of 17 unions in the sector, which collectively represent the overwhelming majority of Ireland’s public servants, backed the deal.
The package, called Building Momentum, was formally ratified at a meeting of ICTU’s Public Services Committee (PSC) this morning.
The agreement, which comes into force with immediate effect and runs until December 2022, includes modest pay increases skewed towards those on lower incomes, measures to address important remaining issues from the last financial crisis, and a mechanism for sectoral bargaining drawing on a a ‘sectoral bargaining fund,’ initially worth 1% of basic pensionable pay during the lifetime of the agreement. It retains strong protections against the privatisation and outsourcing of public services.
Building Momentum also acknowledges the recent “unprecedented display of commitment, flexibility, hard work and agility in public service provision” and commits the parties to harness this momentum to meet challenges including the continuing response to Covid-19, a return to normal delivery of health and education services, Brexit, digitisation, and establishing the public service as the driver of best practice on remote working.
Fórsa general secretary Kevin Callinan, who chairs ICTU’s Public Services Committee, said ICTU-affiliated unions were committed to the full implementation of the agreement which would bring tangible benefits to those who use and provide public services. “The pay terms represent a realistic and acceptable approach to incomes, and they are substantially skewed towards lower earners in a very challenging context of limited resources,” he said.
SIPTU deputy general secretary John King, who is secretary to the ICTU PSC said: “From the outset of our membership consultations, it was clear that there was a real appetite to reject austerity agreements, and improve and progress pay while protecting public service delivery and public service jobs. There was also a demand to try and find a way to deal with grade-related pressure points, without undermining a collective agreement. This short, two year agreement can deliver on these objectives while providing security in times of great uncertainty for all workers across public service.”
INTO general secretary John Boyle said: ““While the pay increases of 1% per annum are modest, the addition of €500 per year to salaries below €50,000 is appropriate particularly for those in the early stages of their careers. The inclusion of a sectoral bargaining fund of 1% of payroll is vital to allow unions to address a range of long-standing claims by next February.”
INMO general secretary Phil Ni Sheaghdha said: “From meeting with our members across the country, it is clear that the main issues for them were restoration of hours to pre-2013 levels, safe staffing, and funds to deal with nursing management outstanding claims. The challenges to retain staff in our health services are real. All aspects of this agreement must be fully implemented over its two-year lifetime.”
The PSC officers are now in discussions with senior officials at the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (DPER) about the implementation of elements of the deal, including the establishment of the processes to address additional working time introduced under the 2013 Haddington Road agreement and to establish bargaining units in relation to the deal’s sectoral bargaining provisions.
The main features of Building Momentum include:
· A general round increase worth 1% of gross pay or €500 a year, whichever is the greater, on 1st October 2021. This means those on lower incomes will receive a significantly larger percentage increase than higher paid staff.
· A second general round increase worth 1% of gross pay or €500 a year, whichever is the greater on 1stOctober 2022. This means those on lower incomes will receive a significantly larger percentage increase than higher paid staff.
· Provision for the equivalent of a 1% increase in annualised basic salaries through a ‘sectoral bargaining fund’ (see below) on 1st February 2022.
· The establishment of a ‘sectoral bargaining fund,’ initially worth 1% of basic pensionable pay during the lifetime of the agreement, to deal with outstanding adjudications, recommendations, awards and claims, with the option for groups to use the available allocation as a sectoral pay round.
Issues outstanding from the 2013 Haddington Road agreement
· Recognition that certain measures introduced under the Haddington Road agreement (HRA) “are to be addressed and implemented” including:
· The establishment of an independent body by the end of March 2021, to make recommendations to begin the process of returning to pre-Haddington Road hours, with €150 million available to commence implementation of the outcome during 2022, and provision for a successor agreement to engage on the roll-out of additional recommendations.
· Measures to address the ‘new entrant’ teacher issue, which will see those recruited since 1st January 2011 move from point 11 to point 13 of the pay scale, or move up one additional point.
· Restoration of overtime and premium payments to pre-2013 levels.
Maintaining the momentum for reform
· Acknowledgement of the recent “unprecedented display of commitment, flexibility, hard work and agility in public service provision” and pledge the parties to harness this momentum to meet the immediate challenges of 2021 and 2022, including the continuing response to Covid-19, a return to normal delivery of health and education services, including addressing challenges that arose for children during the crisis, managing the response to Brexit, establishing the public service as the driver of best practice on remote working, and addressing digitisation.
· Measures to harness the potential for technology to improve service delivery.
· Measures to improve access to services through reformed work practices, including enabling temporary reassignments where necessary and increasing the movement of staff across the public service where necessary.
· An implementation and reporting mechanism to ensure delivery of agreed reforms, including through sectoral action plans.
· The agreement retains existing safeguards on any proposed outsourcing of public service provision.
Service stability and industrial peace
· The agreement sets out a detailed dispute resolution process, including an “industrial peace” clause in line with previous public service agreements.
SIPTU members have given an overwhelming endorsement of the proposals in Building Momentum – A New Public Service Agreement 2021-2022.
Union representatives approached the talks with a clear indication of what our members sought from a future public service agreement.
This was based on motions submitted to Biennial Delegate Conference in October 2019 and consultation meetings with activists in January 2020 before the onset of Covid-19.
It was clear members wanted to move away from austerity agreements, achieve income progression and hold on to the protective clauses on outsourcing with no compulsory redundancies.
There was also a demand to try and find a way to deal with grade related pressure points – without undermining a collective agreement.
The new Agreement provides for pay increases weighted in favour of the lower and middle income earners while protective provisions were maintained. Overtime rates, twilight shift premiums and the tool allowance are restored while a mechanism has been secured to deal with the additional unpaid hours.
A bargaining fund has also been established.
While modest, progress was made on our members’ key objectives, particularly with the restoration of the additional cuts (overtime and premiums ) and the process to deal with the additional hours.
The bargaining fund will present a pathway to enable unions and bargaining units commence some of this work.
Due to Covid-19 restrictions, the timing and process of negotiations of this agreement were not normal.
Communications and consultations with members were different and difficult at times but judging by the tens of thousands who took part in both the consultation process and the postal ballot, the process clearly worked.
The vote was an overwhelming 91% in favour of the proposals.
Union negotiators will take this mandate to the next meeting of the ICTU Public Service Committee where the votes of all public service unions will be aggregated.
If accepted, it is vitally important that we work together to ensure that the benefits of the agreement and its protective clauses are maximised to greatest possible extent for the benefit of SIPTU members.
This is a short, two year agreement and we hope to be back in talks within 18 months with new proposals to advance pay and conditions in the public service.
Hopefully, they will take place in a non-Covid environment and an improved economic landscape.
SIPTU members in the public service have voted by a resounding majority to accept the proposals in Building Momentum, a New Public Service Agreement.
Following a count of ballots in Liberty Hall today (Thursday, 11th February), 91% of votes were in favour of the proposals.
The two year agreement provides for pay increases, a commitment to reduce working hours, protections on public service outsourcing and the restoration of overtime rates and twilight premiums for workers in the health service.
Announcing the result, SIPTU Deputy General Secretary, John King, said: “Despite the challenges presented by Covid-19 in the organisation of the ballot coupled with the necessary public health restrictions, tens of thousands of our members engaged in the consultation process across various online formats. The postal vote of the membership is reflective of this level of engagement by the Union’s public service membership.
“SIPTU representatives will now take this mandate to the next meeting of the ICTU Public Service Committee where the results of ballots by all unions across the public service will be aggregated to determine the final outcome.”
SIPTU members were incensed by the omission of SIPTU Health representatives from the Oireachtas Health Committee today (Tuesday, 9th February) where the situation of Covid-19 frontline health workers was discussed and debated.
SIPTU Health Division Organiser, Kevin Figgis, said: “The reality is that Covid-19 has not been selective in whom it infects. However, it appears that the Committee has been selective in the submissions they sought and heard. Some 70% of those infected workers had no voice at the proceedings.”
“As has been widely reported, health care workers in Ireland have suffered greatly as a consequence of the Covid-19 pandemic. There is a total of 24,250 confirmed cases of Covid-19 infections of health care workers with the vast majority of those working in support grades particularly those working as Health Care Assistants. Health Care Assistants were recently deemed to be the most at risk in a seroprevalence study examining the levels of anti-body evidence of Covid-19 infection among healthcare workers at St James’s Hospital in Dublin and University Hospital Galway (UHG).
“For these unsung heroes not to have their voice heard in our national parliament is absolutely disgraceful and sadly suggests that workers are not all in this together. While it is right that the voices of nurses and doctors are heard, the health service is a multi-disciplinary team. Our members are going through the same fears and anxieties over the roll out of the vaccine, the same pressures on staffing levels and the same realities as all other workers in the health service.”
He added: “SIPTU members are calling on the Committee to rectify this glaring oversight and to acknowledge the essential contribution of all SIPTU members working in our health service, as a matter of urgency.”
An important update was issued by the HSE this evening to confirm the next stage of the roll out of the vaccination programme.
A revised, more detailed sequencing document re priority HCW groups is available to read here
The sequencing document confirms priority is based on exposure and/or risk and not by grade or title.
SIPTU representatives met this week with the HSE to discuss the current standing of the vaccination programme and the roll out of vaccines to the healthcare workforce.
The following update was received:
- SIPTU representatives understand that 129,156 vaccines have been distributed to date through the hospital groups, this includes those distributed through the National Ambulance Service and the temporary clinics established for GPs.
- We understand a further 79,132 vaccines have been distributed through the Long-Term Residential Care settings.
- We have been advised dose two is being rolled out this week with 25,000 doses for people in Long-Term Residential Care settings with a further 22,000 doses for staff.
- SIPTU representatives raised concerns at the reported failure of the HSE to administer vaccines as per their own priority list issued on Tuesday 12th January 2021 and received an assurance the sequencing document for prioritising healthcare workers would be strictly adhered to upon the resumption of first dose vaccinations in the coming days.
- We repeated our request for a report on the vaccinations issued to date and compliance with the HSE sequencing document dated Tuesday 12th January 2021.
- SIPTU representatives were informed the expected supply of Astra-Zeneca vaccine will be applied to administer the first dose vaccine to the priority categories of frontline healthcare workforce awaiting same with effect from next week.
- The HSE has confirmed the delivery is expected this weekend and stated it will “greatly improve” the availability of the vaccine to the priority healthcare workforce.
- SIPTU understands approximately 20,000 doses are expected next week and further increases in delivery quantum are expected of Astra-Zeneca vaccine over the following weeks in February.
- The HSE has confirmed it expects the “vast bulk” of the priority healthcare workforce categories will receive their first dose vaccine by the end of February.
- We are awaiting further clarity on the dose interval for the next four weeks.
- The HSE has confirmed it will concentrate on completing first dose vaccination of the priority healthcare workforce categories starting from next week. SIPTU has been advised the HSE plan for next week includes approx. 8,000 vaccines for mental health and intellectual disability services.
- The HSE has also confirmed it is completing work on the commissioning of a Portal for registration for the vaccine. It is expected to be completed by the resumption of the first dose vaccines and it will have built-in priority allocation software which will allocate appointments as per the national sequencing document.
- SIPTU representatives are awaiting further information on the preparation for a Workforce Plan for the Community Vaccination Teams.
If members have any queries on the roll out of the vaccination programme please contact the union by emailing COVID19info@siptuhealth.ie
SIPTU seeks emergency meeting with health minister over clinical placements for student radiographers
SIPTU representatives have today (Friday, 5th February) written to the Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly, seeking an emergency meeting in order to address serious concerns and challenges raised by student radiographers on clinical placement during the pandemic.
SIPTU Industrial Organiser, John McCamley, said: “The present situation is completely unsustainable. It is scandalous that up to 400 student radiographers are making an essential contribution on the frontline and are not being recognised for their work. The reality is that clinical placements involve direct patient care and assisting qualified radiographers in X-ray departments and theatres in hospitals. At present, student radiographers are being asked to put themselves at great risk for no reward.
“Student radiographers can also be deployed to any hospital across the country. This has resulted in some students paying for additional accommodation while on clinical placement with no option but to continue to pay rent for their regular accommodation close to the college.”
He added: “The pandemic has exacerbated these problems. Due to fears of cross-contamination, lockdowns and public health restrictions many students are unable to earn any income by working part-time, causing them further financial difficulties. Student radiographers with no choice but to self-isolate have to make up the time later in the year. They are not entitled to sick pay or any of the other protections enjoyed by directly employed staff even though they face many of the same challenges and risks as other frontline workers.”
Clinical placements for student nurses and midwives suspended until 8th February
SIPTU representatives and nursing unions were informed tonight (Thursday, 28th January) that clinical placements for first, second and third year student nurses and midwives are to be suspended until at least Monday 8th February and are likely return on a phased basis.
SIPTU Industrial Organiser, John McCamley, said: “Over the last number of days, SIPTU representatives have raised our members deep frustration and annoyance at the haphazard manner way this process has been handled and the very real concerns held by student nurses and midwives around their education, health, well-being and financial challenges.
“It is our understanding that students will not have to make up the time for the first two weeks of this suspension as different processes are being put in place to facilitate this. However, no clarity has yet been provided with respect to the additional week or any further additional weeks of hiatus.
“At the meeting today, the Department of Health again confirmed that the Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly, will sign off on the recent recommendations by Professor Tom Collins and introduce a €100 clinical placement grant. We would encourage the Minister to backdate this payment at a minimum, as suggested by Professor Collins.”
He added: “SIPTU will continue to argue for proper protections within the workplace for students across all health grades and to insist that appropriate financial remuneration is provided for those who carry out essential frontline duties.”
SIPTU representatives have today (26th, January) demanded that the Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly, commits to publishing regular progress reports of the Covid-19 vaccine sequencing programme across the health service.
SIPTU Health Divisional Organiser, Kevin Figgis, said: “Over the last number of days the confidence in this rollout has taken a real battering. The fears and anxiety of tens of thousands of frontline staff working through this pandemic have been heightened by this three week gap in vaccinations.”
“To rebuild confidence in the fair and transparent implementation of the Covid-19 vaccine sequencing programme we are calling on the Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly, to publish regular progress reports of its implementation.
“This report should include a full breakdown of the subsets and categories of worker vaccinated. This will require the Minister to come clean on the categories of workers who have been vaccinated so far and explain the deviation in full.”
He added: “If there is any further deviation from the sequencing programme, or if there is more evidence of people skipping the queue, then full clinical advice from NPHET must also be published in full. This is the only way to ensure that the process is transparent and that the Minister can be held to account for its full implementation.”
SIPTU representatives have today (Friday, 22nd January) said the rapid growth in the Covid-19 infection rate of Health Care Workers (HCWs) to almost 7,000 in the last two weeks is a cause of major concern in light of the Health Service Executive (HSE) plans to pause first dose vaccinations for workers across the health service until early February.
SIPTU Health Divisional Organiser, Kevin Figgis, said: “This planned vaccination pause could not come at worse time for health workers. Over the last number of days, there is a heightened anxiety and frustration among our members who about alleged deviations from the HSE sequencing programme. This programme was meant to be designed to underpin the safe and responsible distribution of the vaccine and we all need to have complete confidence in it. Numbers published today by the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) also clearly illustrate the need for health workers to be vaccinated with 6,834 workers infected over the last two weeks. This is a total of 20,000 HCWs infected since the pandemic began in March and a sharp increase of over 50% in infection rates since Christmas.”
The release of these stark figures comes following the publication of a seroprevalence study examining the levels of antibody evidence of Covid-19 infection among healthcare workers that confirms Health Care Assistants are the most at risk group for contracting Covid-19.”
He added: “The Government must now take immediate action to protect our frontline health workers by doing all they can to rapidly increase the supply of vaccinations coming into the country. They must also be upfront with people about the importance of sticking to the sequencing programme while protecting our most vulnerable and giving confidence to all those on the frontline of our health service that their dose is on the way.”