SIPTU members have reacted with anger, disappointment and hurt at the comments made by Fianna Fáil TD, Marc MacSharry who has accused public servants of laziness during the Covid-19 crisis.
SIPTU Deputy General Secretary for the Public Service, John King, said: “Earlier this week, SIPTU representatives took the view that Deputy MacSharry’s theatrical attempt to grab cheap media headlines was not worthy of a response. However, given the volume of emails, phone calls and messages from members over the last 24 hours since the deputy repeated his outrageous comments we believe we must give public expression to the level of anger, disappointment and hurt felt by public service workers working across the country.
“Deputy MacSharry’s comments clearly demonstrate a fundamental lack of appreciation and understanding of the efforts made by hundreds of thousands of public servants who have worked around the clock to stop the spread of the coronavirus from day one of the outbreak. SIPTU members in the public service are not only on the frontline of our hospitals and emergency services but have kept essential community services going throughout the crisis, are playing a pivotal role in contact tracing and testing, are volunteering to deliver essential goods to our most vulnerable and are processing record numbers of social protection payments.
“The reality is that these essential public services are provided by hard working and diligent workers including SIPTU members in the deputy’s own constituency in the Institute of Technology Sligo, in Sligo and Leitrim county councils, in Sligo University Hospital and the HSE National Recruitment Service in Leitrim and other employments.”
He added: “Our members are demanding Deputy MacSharry listens to the advice of his parliamentary colleagues in Fianna Fáil and other parties, withdraws his comments, apologises and puts an end to this kind of misleading rhetoric that only serves to divide public and private sector workers at a time when the economic recovery of the country requires unity and solidarity.”
Over time the questions will get louder: ‘How do we reduce the deficit? How will we repay all these bills?’ Some will claim there is no alternative to spending cuts and tax increases; that is, austerity.
There is, however, a better response summed up in one word: growth. It is economic growth that will reduce the deficit and ‘repay the bills’. The Irish Fiscal Advisory Council shows as much – that most of the deficit will be wiped out by 2025 without any policy change.
We can’t, however, rely on growth alone. We need extra resources for investment (housing, climate justice, public transport), public services such as health and education; and enhanced in-work benefits such as illness benefit and family supports. Where will we get these resources from?
Let’s not think that deficits and debt are something only Finance Ministers can fix. Restructuring the workplace can also play a role. Among other high-income EU countries, Ireland has low wages, the smallest proportion of national income.
Driving up wages, especially for low and average income earners, obviously benefits workers. It benefits the economy through more spending. It benefits the public finances because it drives up tax revenue and reduces subsidies to low-wage employers. And the best way to drive up wages is by expanding collective bargaining rights. Give workers the tools to achieve wage justice in the workplace and watch the economy grow and public finances stabilise.
Investment is another way to reduce the deficit and debt. Investment is not a cost. It is a down-payment today to achieve higher revenue growth in the future. Investments in affordable housing and childcare, public transport and retrofitting, education and Just Transition – these will put people to work today and grow the economy in the long term.
We will also need to look at our tax system. We are a low-taxed economy. But not in workers’ personal taxation and spending taxes (VAT, excise). We lag behind other European countries in employers’ PRSI and capital taxes.
We will need to increase these over time to ensure we have the resources to invest in social prosperity.
SIPTU will be addressing economic and social issues in the weeks and months ahead. We intend to set the agenda, not follow it; and give leadership on the innovative and democratic policies that are necessary to vindicate our members and all workers.
SIPTU representatives have today (Friday, 24th July) called for an urgent meeting with the management of St Marys, Telford in south Dublin. The call comes following a meeting between management and a liquidator.
SIPTU Health Organiser, Brian Condra said: “The news that management has met with liquidators has shocked and disappointed our members. SIPTU members in St. Mary’s Telford have a longstanding and proud tradition of providing exemplary care for vulnerable residents and patients in the facility.
“Our members had an agreement with management that the closure of this facility would not happen until at least December 2020 and that negotiations to minimise actual job losses through possible redeployment measures would take place.
“Despite ongoing negotiations, management met with the liquidators today. We believe this action is premature and it has caused confusion and deep hurt among the staff, residents and their families.”
He added: “SIPTU representatives have written to the management seeking an urgent meeting with them and the liquidator, to find out why these essential negotiations to secure proper protections for members and to preserve this vital service for the community, have been suddenly shelved.”
SIPTU representatives will attend the Oireachtas Covid-19 Committee tomorrow (Tuesday, 21st July) to discuss coronavirus infection rates among healthcare workers.
It is expected that SIPTU representatives will outline several contributing factors, including a study of the latest data on healthcare worker infection rates and the key findings identified.
The union is also expected to make recommendations to the Committee including maintaining essential testing and contact tracing capacity in preparation for any potential second wave and an extensive review on the experience of workers seeking access to essential PPE and training during the early days of the crisis.
Health workers are all essential frontline workers.
We want to hear about your experience during the Covid-19 crisis, any concerns you may have in the workplace and what we can do together to shape a fairer future for all health workers and communities in Ireland.
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.”
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.
This reality means changing the way we interact, the way we work, the way we travel, the way we socialise and the way we care for each other.
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.
As we learn to live with the coronavirus, we have an opportunity to focus on what a better tomorrow, what a “new normal” can look like and how we can work together to achieve it.
For example, in health, our “new normal” can end record high hospital waiting lists, put a full stop on unequal two tiered health services and draw a line under the sick business of health and elder care profiteering.
The Covid-19 crisis has given people across the world a renewed and deep appreciation of how we collectively rely on all essential workers. From our cleaners to our consultants health workers have spent the lockdown, in the trenches, keeping us safe and our loved ones healthy, often at considerable risk to themselves.
The sheer speed and scale of this pandemic has made us question what we value and seek where the solutions really lie. It has shown us what the State can do when it acts with urgency and mobilises the necessary resources and there should be no going back.
No going back to a broken system that discriminates, that denies access to essential services on the basis of what’s in a sick person’s pocket or health insurance plan.
The sole criteria should always be need, with universal basic services provided free to people funded through a progressive and sustainable taxation system.
The plan, supported by the Irish trade union movement, was agreed in cross party committee in 2017 and adopted by government. The plan commits government to creating a modern, integrated health system, delivering timely care based on clinical need, for all.
The crisis has seen a fast-forwarding of Sláintecare — not only the use of public facilities for the public, but the sequestering of private facilities for the public good, so clearly when there is a will, there is a way.
The draft programme for government, yet to be endorsed by Fine Gael, Fianna Fail and Green Party members speaks of plans to “further accelerate the implementation of Sláintecare” with appropriate funding measures to be examined in “advance of Budget 2022” but we need to go further.
The last few weeks and months has been a real wakeup call for all of us. We have paid a tremendously high price for underinvestment in our public care services.
This has been borne out by the unacceptably high number of deaths in nursing homes with 50% of all COVID-19 fatalities, as identified by the Department of Health, as having occurred in a nursing home settings.
The special Oireachtas Covid-19 Committee was told this week that one in five of the 30,000 residents of nursing homes were confirmed to have a Covid-19 positive diagnosis.
This is unacceptable. We, as a society, must do and demand better.
This deliberate, rampant outsourcing of elderly care means that 82% of nursing home care is now provided by private “for profit” organisations with wealthy investors and ever demanding shareholders.
If we can learn anything from this pandemic it must be that public service delivery of this care, with established staffing levels, safe skill-mix levels and decent pay for workers rooted in the community is the only fair future for elder care services.
It is beyond doubt that the failure of successive governments to invest in health, coupled with ideologically driven cutbacks and outsourcing policies, has led to critical failures in patient care systems.
The time is now for these systems to be reimagined to make sure we, as a society, don’t go back to the tried and tested care models of the past and build an inclusive and democratic dialogue about the nature, operation and delivery of all our public services.
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.”
“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.