n Last Friday (26th November) Guidance and FAQs on working arrangements and temporary assignments for the civil and public service was updated by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.
Last week, a decision was taken by the Government to introduce new rules which required people who had a Covid-19 close contact living in their household to stay at home for 5 days and undertake 3 antigen tests during that time. Following that decision, the HSE publicly announced its intention to seek a derogation of all HCWs.
SIPTU, FORSA and INMO representatives made public statements outlining our opposition to any attempt to exempt our members from public health guidance. This position was supported given the high level of HCW infection.
On foot of this intervention, there were several meetings at national level with senior clinicians, HSE management and union lead officials over the last number of days. Arising from these discussions and negotiations an updated policy has been developed.
The updated policy for fully vaccinated HCWs confirms:
- The default position remains that fully vaccinated HCWs should adhere to public health guidance including the requirement to stay at home for 5 days and undertake 3 antigen tests (one completed every second day) during that time.
- This is the same advice as members of the general public. The antigen tests will be sent out by public health when contacted. The HSE has confirmed the employer must provide work from home for a fully vaccinated HCW who is isolating in line with public health guidance.
- If the HSE contend there is a serious risk to service if a HCW does not present for work, a process for derogation of that HCW may be sought within this agreed policy.
- The derogation request will only apply to the individual HCW.
- A request for derogation of a HCW must be undertaken by a senior manager.
For the derogation to be applied, the healthcare worker must agree to the derogation.
- The senior manager must complete the checklist (see Appendix 2 of the policy) in order to make the decision regarding derogation.
- Consideration should be given to the risk to patient safety from absences of essential HCWs. This process should include an assessment of available personnel who can be redeployed within the service. This process may result in there not being a need to derogate a HCW who is a close contact of a household confirmed case.
- The senior manager must ensure all practical efforts have been made to recruit alternative HCWs with the necessary skills and experience.
- The senior manager must ensure there is a discussion with the HCW regarding the reason derogation is necessary.
- The senior manager must note a risk assessment may be necessary to minimize the risk created by the HCW attending work
Any asymptomatic fully vaccinated HCWs who agree to a derogation request will have to have 1 clear antigen test before returning to work. They will be required to maintain antigen testing every second day until they have 3 negative test results. They will also be monitored with a temperature check twice daily following their return.
Should a HCW agree to a derogation request, they will also be required to adhere to public health guidance outside of their working hours.
Union representatives believe this robust process is the best that can achieved considering the level of extreme stress on our health service at this time. The process ensures our members will have a say in whether they wish to return to the workplace or maintain the public health guidance of restricting their movement for 5 days.
All HCWs remain under strict instructions to self-isolate and arrange PCR testing should they become symptomatic, or they have a positive antigen test result. The HCWs must also resume the restricted movement when not in the healthcare facility for work.
Following the announcement by HSE Chief Executive Officer, Paul Reid, that he is seeking a derogation for healthcare workers to be exempt from the new five-day rule to self-isolate if a member of their household becomes infected with COVID-19, the National Joint Council group of healthcare unions have written to the HSE opposing this plan.
“Healthcare unions – the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation, SIPTU and Fórsa are strongly opposed to the comments made by HSE CEO, Paul Reid at a press conference earlier today where he stated that he will be seeking a derogation to exempt healthcare workers from the new five-day isolation rule.
In the letter the officers of the National Joint Council said:
“We cannot repeat the mistakes of previous derogations that allowed healthcare workers to be exempt from public health advice. We know in the past that allowing healthcare workers to be exempt we saw infections spike among healthcare workers and patients, particularly when it came to the care of older people.
“Healthcare workers should not be treated differently in terms of public health advice. The HSE and Government need to take the concerns of patient-facing staff seriously. We cannot have a situation where the highest cohort of workers who are dealing with unvaccinated patients and working in environments with poor ventilation like many of our healthcare settings, are putting their colleagues and loved ones at further risk.
“The derogation that the CEO of the HSE is seeking will not help to prevent the spread of the disease.
“As representatives of healthcare workers, we want to make it clear to the Health Service Executive, Taoiseach and Minister for Health that our members will not accept this. We are already seeing over 4,500 healthcare workers out of work because of this virus, we cannot allow a carte blanche decision that is not rooted in public health advice to be made.”
Today (Friday, 29th October) workers, unions and civil society allies around the globe will take action to demand investments and decent work in care.
The annual Global Action Day to #InvestInCare is a joint initiative of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), UNI Global Union, Education International (EI), International Domestic Workers Federation (IDWF) Public Services International (PSI), and Women in Informal Employment Globalizing and Organizing (WIEGO)
SIPTU Health Divisional Organiser Kevin Figgis, said: “The pandemic has exposed how decades of underinvestment in our health and care systems have severely degraded quality, accessibility, and safety in the sector. Earlier this year, SIPTU members participated in UNI Global Union´s comprehensive survey of care workers and the results were stark. It showed unacceptable levels of staffing shortages, poverty pay, and dangerous conditions in the global care system. In Ireland, the pandemic has shone a light on the value of all our health workers and the challenges we face securing proper funding, safe staffing levels, and the ever-creeping threat of outsourcing.
He added: “Today, we stand with you to say enough is enough. We want accessible and quality care for all with good wages underpinned by the highest safety standards for all our frontline heroes. Nothing less will do.”
“Care workers cannot wait for the next pandemic to hit. They need safe jobs, acceptable staffing ratios, secure hours and family-sustaining pay now,” said Christy Hoffman, General Secretary of UNI Global Union. “We say that COVID-19 has changed everything, but many of the problems in care have stayed the same—or gotten worse. It’s time to rebuild the care sector to benefit patients, residents and workers alike,” she continued.
Head of UNI Global Union´s Care sector, Adrian Durtschi, said: “Care workers around the world need urgent action from governments and employers to put life at the centre of care. That means safe jobs and jobs that can sustain a family. On October 29 and beyond we are seeing a broad coalition—workers, investors, patient advocates—come together for change.”
This global day of action will draw attention to the urgent need for a re-investment in universal, equitable, quality, public and gender transformative health and care systems for:
- the creation of decent jobs for women and men in the care sector, including access to vocational and lifelong learning;
- improving pay and working conditions for workers in health, care and education;
- ensuring availability and accessibility by all to quality public health, care and education services;
- stimulating sustainable economic and jobs growth; and
- realising gender equality policies and programmes.
The HSE Staff Panel of Trade Unions has expressed its deep concern that the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC) has not made a decision to give healthcare workers booster vaccines at this time.
The health sector unions have written to Health Service Executive (HSE) management to request that healthcare workers are offered the opportunity to avail of a booster vaccine.
SIPTU Health Divisional Organiser, Kevin Figgis, said: “Union representatives have been advised by the HSE that there is no issue with regards to the supply of vaccines to provide a booster dose, that they would be available to roll out a booster program from early November and that it would take three weeks to complete. However, it is awaiting NIAC approval.
“Therefore, we find it inexplicable that health care workers who are working on the frontline against Covid-19 and, within the context of growing community and hospital transmission, are not being offered the option of a booster vaccine.”
He added: “Frontline healthcare workers were one of the first cohort to receive the vaccine in early 2021 and after 6 months they can receive a booster. They are now well beyond that timeline. Current reports clearly indicate that a growing number of healthcare workers are being infected with Covid-19. The health sector unions are adamant that healthcare workers should have the option of a third booster vaccination as quickly as possible.
“In addition, the HSE will also be aware of the severe pressure on the health system, with severe overcrowding in many acute hospitals. The current risk to health care workers is simply too high. The HSE must take steps to address this situation and to ensure that healthcare workers are protected.”
SIPTU Health members covered by the public service agreement will receive a 1% pay increase, or €500 a year increase in wages, whichever is the greater, from today (Friday, 1st October). The deal was negotiated under Building Momentum, a deal negotiated by SIPTU and other public service unions.
This means that all health workers on lower incomes will receive a significantly larger percentage increase than higher paid staff.
Substantial protective provisions were also copper fastened by Building Momentum and with the uncertainty arising from the pandemic, these measures are needed now more than ever. Overtime rates and twilight shift premiums were also restored while a mechanism has been secured to deal with the additional unpaid hours worked by our members.
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 has also been established. This part of the agreement is being negotiated by Sectoral Bargaining Units.
We expect this process to begin shortly and any payments arising are due from 1st February 2022. Negotiations for a new public service agreement are set to start around summer 2022.
The next full instalment of this deal, which was overwhelmingly backed by SIPTU members, will see a further 1% adjustment in October 2022.
Unions representing healthcare workers have called for immediate talks with the HSE on recognition for healthcare worker’s efforts during the COVID-19 crisis, following a Labour Court recommendation today.
SIPTU, Fórsa, and the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation had raised the issue at the Labour Court, which today called on all parties to begin “effective engagement” to resolve the matter.
Unions are seeking some form of tangible recognition for healthcare workers’ contribution to the fight against COVID-19. In other countries across Europe, this has taken the form of additional pay, annual leave or a bonus.
Tony Fitzpatrick, Chair of the Staff Panel of trade unions in the health sector, said:
“We welcome the Labour Court recommendation today. Unions have consistently sought meaningful meetings with the HSE on this issue.
“The Court recognised the ‘extraordinary efforts of health workers throughout the pandemic’. They have called on all parties to ‘make every effort possible’ to begin ‘effective engagement’ to ‘achieve clarity…at the earliest possible opportunity’.
“Trade unions are available to meet immediately to do exactly that. This is a simple matter of justice for our members. They have made incredible sacrifices and taken huge risks throughout the pandemic. It is time for the HSE and government to recognise their efforts meaningfully, as has been done in other countries across Europe.”
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.
Labour Court hearing on health workers’ claim for recognition of their work during Covid-19 pandemic
A Labour Court hearing on the row over recognition for health workers’ efforts and commitment during the Covid-19 pandemic takes place later today (Monday, 13thSeptember). Trade unions representing health workers referred the case to the Labour Court following a July meeting in the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC), when the HSE said it had no mandate from the Government to make proposals to recognise health workers’ contribution.
The unions, led by Fórsa, the INMO and SIPTU, subsequently asked An Taoiseach, Micheál Martin to intervene amid growing frustration among health staff.
Tony Fitzpatrick, INMO Director of Industrial Relations said: “Health workers welcomed comments by An Taoiseach and other senior Government figures, who have gone on record to support the proposal that their efforts during the pandemic should be recognised. So they were incredulous that the HSE claimed it had no mandate to engage on the issue. That’s why we’ve had to take our case to the Labour Court.”
Fórsa’s Head of Health & Welfare, Éamonn Donnelly, said: “This has become deeply damaging to the morale of health care workers who, without exception, have demonstrated extraordinary commitment in their response to public need since the pandemic struck in February 2021. It’s demoralising that we’ve ended up in the Labour Court when there is broad public and political consensus on the issue.”
SIPTU Health Divisional Organiser, Kevin Figgis, said: “The Republic is 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. Over 30,000 health care workers have been infected with Covid-19 since the pandemic struck in Ireland.”
The case before the Labour Court today is in the name of the National Staff Panel of health unions, which represents members of the INMO, SIPTU, Fórsa, IMO, MLSA, UNITE, CONNECT, and the craft group of unions.
Ireland’s major health unions today (Thursday, 9th September) called for an “urgent recommitment” to the Sláintecare health reform programme, following the resignation of two senior officials associated with the project.
Professor Tom Keane (Chairperson) and Dr. Laura Magahy (Executive Director) both stepped down from their positions with the programme. In his resignation letter, Prof. Keane said that the requirements for implementing Sláintecare were “seriously lacking”.
Members of the the Irish Congress of Trade Unions Health Sector Group, including the INMO, SIPTU and Forsa, who represent workers across the health sector, have now jointly called for:
- The Oireachtas Health Committee to be reconvened to look into the resignations;
- The Minister for Health to clearly renew his commitment to the Sláintecare project;
- A commitment to transition funding for Sláintecare in the upcoming budget;
- A return to the original principles of the Sláintecare plan, including basing the project office in the Department of the Taoiseach and the creation of regional authorities.
Congress Health Sector Group Coordinator, Macdara Doyle said:
“The resignations of Sláintecare’s most senior official are deeply worrying. COVID has further exposed the weakness of a two-tier health service. Now is the time to redouble our efforts on healthcare reforms, not fall back.
“The resignations should serve as a wakeup call for the political system. Sláintecare has cross-party support – it is well beyond time that it becomes a reality.
“The Oireachtas Health Committee needs to meet on this matter urgently. The Minister for Health needs to make a clear commitment to the plan and this has to be backed up by firm commitments from his colleagues in government.”
SIPTU representatives, along with other health unions, are working together to win recognition for the effort and commitment shown by health workers during the Covid-19 pandemic as part of their ‘Respect = Recognition’ campaign.
We are asking members to support the campaign by completing a short survey which will help strengthen the case we are putting to the Government and Labour Court.
A Labour Court hearing is expected to bring the parties together on Monday, 13th September. The court hearing comes after HSE representatives failed to table an offer at the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) in early August.
Health workers in Northern Ireland, France, Denmark and elsewhere have been offered some form of tangible recognition for their work during the pandemic crisis. We believe that similar recognition should be afforded to our frontline heroes in health.
We will keep you informed of any updates on our hearing at the Labour Court and we thank you for your continued support and efforts.