SIPTU representatives have today (Friday, 11th May) repeated their call to halt the privatisation of critical health services and demanded that the Government starts a process of bringing all health screening services home to Ireland.
SIPTU Health Division Organiser, Paul Bell, said: “Firstly, our members, like the rest of the public, are rightly outraged by the CervicalCheck scandal. Our hearts and solidarity go out to Vicky Phelan, Emma Mhic Mhatúna and the other women and their families touched by this tragedy. The resignation of one man won’t cure all the ills facing the health service but it does give us the opportunity to pause and reflect on the danger of outsourcing essential health services.”
“The tragic circumstances facing these women and their families is the net result of a drive to commodify our health service. We have an intolerable situation where shareholders and profits have been prioritised over patients and lives. Patients and citizens are being treated as customers and clients. It is time for the people who made these decisions to come clean and start the process of bringing all health screening services home to Ireland. The public monies being used to offshore these services should be put to better use and ringfenced into the Capital Investment Plan. That would allow for the necessary funds to be made available to purchase the facilities and equipment needed to provide these services at home.”
He added: “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 our members have surrounding the governance and oversight offered to patients. The CervicalCheck scandal is proof of that and only serves to reinforce the need to move to a publicly controlled and universally accessible single-tier national health service.”
“Instead, health employers claim they have no choice but to outsource essential health services. 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). It is proven the world over, that once a service is outsourced that there is little control over it and even less accountability until it’s too late that is. Patients deserve better.”
SIPTU representatives have today (Tuesday, 8th May) called on the Government to intervene in a dispute involving up to fifty Section 39 organisations in order to avert strike action by workers.
SIPTU Health Division Organiser, Paul Bell, said: “Our members have given the employer the space to complete an audit of fifty selected Section 39 organisations. They are currently waiting for the Health Service Executive to publish the results of this audit. However, nothing has been done by the employer’s side in this dispute which would give our members any confidence that conflict and industrial unrest in the form of a national strike in this sector is anything other than imminent.
“Furthermore, should SIPTU members be forced to reactivate their strike notice, which was deferred in February at the request of the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC), they are confident that their colleagues in other unions will join them in this struggle and commit to strike action in a number of selected employments.”
Bell said that the WRC has sought to facilitate an engagement between the parties in the dispute.
He added: “SIPTU will play its role in any process which is aimed at delivering a meaningful outcome. However, the solution to this pay injustice scandal rests ultimately with the Government and the Section 39 organisations.”
Last month, SIPTU shop stewards, working in the National Ambulance Service, attended a special one-day organising seminar. The seminar, titled Meeting the Challenges. Winning Respect, included presentations from representatives from the European Public Services Union (EPSU), UNISON and the National Ambulance Service and included member-led workshops designed to get to the root of the challenges members face in their everyday working lives.
At the conference, we heard stories from our members working on the frontline every day of the week and how we can work together to improve representation, communication and organising in every ambulance base around the country.
SIPTU Ambulance Sector Organiser, Miriam Hamilton, said: “There was a very healthy engagement and a robust debate at the conference over the challenges members face. Our members are determined to win respect on pay, pensions and the ever-evolving role and responsibilities of ambulance professionals.”
According to SIPTU Health Division Organiser, Paul Bell, one definitive outcome from the seminar is that SIPTU members will flatly reject an attempt by the Government to extend their legal retirement age beyond 65 unless a proper evaluation of the full impact of such a measure is undertaken.
He said: “Our members are determined to engage with the Government on its intention to extend the legal retirement age for public servants from 65 to 70 years of age. We will be campaigning for parity of esteem with other frontline emergency workers. Our demands are simple – we want an independent study on the physical ability of ambulance professionals to perform the full range of life-saving duties at more than 65 years of age.”
Speaking at the seminar, Alan Lofthouse, UNISON National Ambulance Services Officer, discussed the challenges ambulance professionals face in the UK.
He focused on the four pillars underpinning the UNISON Ambulance Campaign, including fair pay for ambulance staff, a safe and sensible retirement age, as well as proper training, development and career progression.
UNISON recently mobilised for pay increases for ambulance staff and, following short-term industrial action, was able to successfully negotiate an agreement on improved terms and conditions for paramedics.
The next stage in the campaign will take place in Cork on Saturday 12th May.
A video of the seminar, which will include contributions from Forsa and Unite can be viewed at the SIPTU Ambulance Sector AGM in Liberty Hall on Monday 14th May.
Growing inequality is probably the most pressing issue we are facing in Irish society today. It rears its ugly head in various forms: precarious employment, poor access to decent health and child care and the inability of an increasing number of our people to have a place to call home.
We, in the trade union movement, tend to concentrate our energies on delivering pay increases for our members. This is our bread and butter but we also owe it to our members, and the people who rely on us, to use our power to close the widening gap between capital and labour.
A recent analysis of earnings within the EU shows that Ireland’s income levels are skewed at either end of the income spectrum. The lowest 10% of earners are paid below the average of their European equivalents while the top 10% of earners are paid above the European norm. This is unacceptable.
One positive development in recent times is that CEO pay is increasingly coming under the spotlight. The rate at which company executives pay themselves took off over the last 30 years. Typically, in the 1980s CEOs were paid 40 times the average worker – it is now more than 300 times. Again, unacceptable.
And it is no coincidence that the increase in income inequality has risen over a period when union density has decreased.
While income inequality has been much less pronounced in the public sector than in the private sector, society’s elite, be they in the public or private sphere, tend to justify their enormous salaries with notions of ‘aren’t we worth it?’
The great crash of 2008 proves, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the majority of them are not worth it.
The recent decision by the Government to lift the cap of €190,000 on the salaries of senior academics within the university sector is an insult to the thousands of low-paid and precariously-employed workers within the third level sector and, indeed, though out the wider public service family.
These decisions have been prioritised over the elimination of the discriminatory lower level entry pay for up to 60,000 new recruits.
It’s a real kick in the teeth to public service workers who have carried this country through the worst years of the economic crisis. It is also the wrong policy and the wrong focus.
Your Union’s mandate has always been about transforming society – issues of social justice must be on a par with the routine issues that we deal with daily in the workplace.
There is widespread sympathy among the public for those younger public servants who are paid at a lower level than older staff. The younger generation is getting a raw deal in today’s world – everybody sees that.
This goodwill for the stance being taken by trade unions in support of younger workers was instantly undermined with totally disproportionate RTE coverage of a motion being tabled at a civil service union seeking to double leave for legal consultation in the event of a divorce for its members. It allowed a hostile press to paint a picture of a cosseted civil service totally removed from reality.
The campaigns and the issues that we, as a trade union movement, pursue will define us. If we pursue a narrow-based vocational agenda removed from wider societal realities and concerns, we will flounder.
That is why SIPTU has been to the front of the National Homeless and Housing Coalition. It is why we are trying to reform childcare through our Big Start campaign and fighting for pay justice for Section 39 workers.
It is why SIPTU will not be party to any future public sector talks unless the two lower entry points for new employees are abolished.
As a union, we must continue to work for our members both within the workplace and in society with the same energy in order to fight the scourge of inequality; to continue to fight for the many, not the few.
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.
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.”
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
SIPTU representatives will focus on pay justice for lower paid public servants in a talks process with Government, under the auspices of the Public Service Stability Agreement, which began today (Friday, 27th April) with a meeting in the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform in Dublin.
SIPTU Health Division Organiser, Paul Bell, said: “The data provided by Government today certainly gives us food for thought. Government officials confirmed that over 25,000 health workers have been employed in the health service since 2011. Almost 8,000 are SIPTU members working in support grades. It is now necessary to urgently proceed to analysing the incremental points of each new entrant since 2011.
“We believe that today’s engagement with the Government confirms that a positive environment exists and that with the right political will, a just and satisfactory outcome for all parties to the talks process can be achieved.”
SIPTU Public Administration and Community Division Organiser, Adrian Kane, said: “Following initial discussions today the two sides have agreed to a further meeting on the issue of pay for public servants in June. The period before that meeting will be used by both sides to establish the full extent of the issues which are to be discussed.
“It is imperative that the two speed pay scale issue in the public service is resolved in a timely manner. Public servants took a massive hit in their pay during the financial crisis. This was largely done without agreement through the introduction of the draconian FEMPI legislation.”
He added: “Due to the improving economy, the fiscal space available to the Government is significantly larger than that which was envisaged when the parties signed up to the Public Service Stability Agreement last year. The additional money available needs to be targeted at assisting the lowest paid public servants by the elimination of the two additional entry points to the 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.”