Talks on pay terms for health workers in the community and voluntary sector break down at WRC

The group of unions representing workers employed in community and voluntary sector agencies funded by the HSE, walked out of talks at the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) earlier this week in response to what the unions described as a “derisory” pay offer from the employer.

The union group, led by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU), said it would now proceed to ballot workers for industrial action. The ballots will take place in several employments in the sector selected by the unions, and likely to involve hundreds of health and care staff. While these agencies are funded by the state, their employees in a range of health professional, clinical, clerical and administrative grades, are on lesser terms and conditions than their HSE counterparts.

SIPTU Health Divisional Organiser, Kevin Figgis, said: “The breakdown of these talks is a complete body blow to thousands of healthcare and community workers who had a legitimate expectation that they would be getting a decent pay rise coupled with the restoration of the pay link between Section 39 workers and workers in the public service. Is it unacceptable that workers providing essential public services are not being paid public service rates of pay. The government cannot continue to turn a blind eye and must grasp the nettle. There is over a 10% pay gap that is feeding a huge recruitment and retention crisis in Section 39 services. The reality is that if this continues, services will be shut down, and the HSE will then have to step in to provide these services. It’s completely counter-intuitive. The strategy of being penny wise and pound foolish with the provision of these services is completely intolerable, and our members won’t stand for it any longer. We will now engage with our members with a view to resuming widespread industrial and strike action across these services.”

SIPTU Public Administration and Community Divisional Organiser, Karan O’Loughlin, said: “ Our members in the community sector have been extremely patient while waiting for the government to put forward a reasonable and acceptable proposal. Despite their patience, this hasn’t happened. Our members are not prepared to wait any longer. For every member of staff freshly recruited, another experienced staff member is walking out the door. The situation is grim, and the offer this morning suggests there’s little, if any, political will to tackle it. Real pay improvements for staff are the only means of stemming the high rate of staff exits each year and to fulfil recruitment targets for vital health services, including disability and homeless services.”

Fórsa national secretary Ashley Connolly said the offer, which had been sanctioned by Officials from the Department of Health, Department of Children Equality, Disability, Youth and Integration and HSE, fell far short of expectations: “This morning’s pay offer amounted to 5% in a single year, falling far short of the current public service agreement.

“These are workers providing professional health and social care working shoulder-to-shoulder with their public service counterparts. The employer’s offer suggests they were never that serious about resolving the growing pay disparities and the growing problem of employee retention. Any prospect of an agreement was essentially extinguished this morning,” she said.
Maeve Brehony of the INMO added: “The Government has been dragging its feet on this issue for years, while making conciliatory noises to health workers who urgently need pay improvements.

“They haven’t seen a significant pay rise for years, their colleagues are walking out the door for better terms elsewhere, and there appears to be no sense of urgency at Government level, despite the growing waiting lists for the services these agencies offer,” she said.
Until 2008, workers in these agencies received pay increases under national wage agreements. At the onset of the financial crisis they were subject to FEMPI pay cuts in line with the same cuts applied to public sector pay. Limited pay restoration measures were eventually won by unions in 2019 but pay in these agencies remains significantly behind, and no formal mechanism for collective pay bargaining exists for workers in the sector.

Union research has revealed that recruitment and retention of professional health staff in these employments has become a major challenge. Employers are consequently burdened with higher recruitment costs and growing waiting lists for services.

SIPTU seeks immediate engagement with HSE regarding recommendations in the CAMHS report

SIPTU representatives have today (Friday 28th July) sought immediate engagement with the Health Service Executive (HSE) over the implementation of the Independent Review of the Provision of Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) in the State by the Inspector of Mental Health Services.

SIPTU, as one of the largest union representing staff working in mental health services, including psychiatric nurses, healthcare assistants, and support grades, welcomes the report’s recommendations. However, representatives expressed disappointment over the lack of formal engagement with members throughout the stakeholder process.

SIPTU Sector Organiser, John McCamley, said: “Our members were not surprised by the report’s contents given they face each day the daunting task of providing care to vulnerable clients in a system plagued by deficits. We call on the HSE to begin a process of engagement with the relevant stakeholders to resolve these issues as a matter of urgency.”

“The dedication of all CAMHS staff must be recognised. They relentlessly strive to deliver vital services under challenging circumstances, and they would be the first to advocate for a world-class mental health service for young people in this country. They are an invaluable asset to the State, and we must bear this in mind as we confront the outcomes of this report.”

He added: “The report noted a number of ways staffing issues within CAMHS are having a detrimental effect on the delivery of the service. Crucially, the report highlighted the absence of a benchmark for safe staffing levels within child and adolescent mental health services. This must be addressed. The report also acknowledged the prevalence of low staff morale and burnout among healthcare workers in CAMHS; and raised serious concerns that some staff members are compelled to work beyond their contracted hours without additional compensation, all in a bid to provide essential therapeutic interventions, and stop some services from collapsing. This is not right, this is not fair, and ultimately this is not sustainable for staff or their clients.”

SIPTU says further solutions needed to address staffing issues in home care sector

SIPTU representatives have called on the Government to engage in meaningful dialogue to seek comprehensive solutions to the recruitment and retention crisis in the home support sector.

In response to the announcement by health minister, Stephen Donnelly, that State-funded home support providers will receive an increase in funding in order to pay workers the living wage, SIPTU Sector Organiser, Pat Flannery, said that it will not fully address issues in the sector.

SIPTU Sector Organiser, Pat Flannery said; “While we acknowledge the Government’s efforts to address some of the challenges in the sector, the announced pay increase falls short of what is needed to effectively tackle the current recruitment and retention issues faced by home support services.

“The current Living Wage in Ireland is €13.10 per hour. In the public service, a healthcare support assistant can start on more than €16 per hour. This will rise to more than €20 per hour for those who reach the top of their salary scale. In addition, public service healthcare support assistants enjoy union-negotiated benefits such as access to a pension scheme, paid sick leave, sufficient contracted hours and premium payments for unsociable hours. These are not often a feature in contracts of employment in the voluntary and private sectors.

“It is crucial to understand that the proposals do not go far enough in providing a sustainable solution for the voluntary home support sector. Progress in this area is far too slow to date and the Government needs to stop taking a piecemeal approach to this issue.
“Our members want the Government to engage in meaningful dialogue with their trade union to explore more comprehensive solutions to the recruitment and retention crisis in the home support sector.”

Unions call on Government to immediately intervene on Section 39 pay dispute

SIPTU, the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) and Fórsa representatives, have today (Wednesday 19th July) expressed their deep and intense frustration with the Government over its failure to resolve a long standing pay dispute involving thousands of Section 39, Section 10 and Section 56 workers.

The call comes following a last minute cancellation of a Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) by the government employers hearing for the fourth time.

SIPTU Health Divisional Organiser, Kevin Figgis, said: “Our members are beyond frustrated at this point. They want back what was taken from them: the 10% pay gap to be closed and the pay link with the public service workers restored in full. The strategy of dodge, delay, and deny won’t wash with our members and we are demanding that this matter be resolved once and for all. Our industrial and strike action has only been suspended, and if the Government does not intervene to settle this dispute, we will not be found wanting. We have the intolerable situation where members are being paid 2008 rates for work they do in 2023. This is completely unacceptable.”

SIPTU Public Administration and Community Divisional Organiser, Karan O’Loughlin, said “The wage cuts unilaterally imposed after the economic crash over a decade ago have been reversed all over the economy, but these workers are being left behind. This puts these essential services at risk and our members extremely frustrated. The reality is that we have a recruitment and retention crisis across the entire community health and voluntary sectors, so for government ministers to stand idly by while their department officials attempt to run down the clock and leave these workers high and dry time after time is completely intolerable. We won’t be standing for it and will be reactivating our strike notice if this disrespectful behaviour continues.”

Fórsa Health National Secretary, Ashley Connolly, said: “This latest delay is a very frustrating development, and adds a further strain on our members in this sector, who have had their patience exhausted by endless delays. The delay also puts additional pressure on employers in the sector, who are managing a deepening crisis on recruitment and retention, while service users continue to endure lengthening waiting lists due to staff shortages. We need decisive Government action to bring an end to the delays and uncertainty. Unions stand ready to negotiate in good faith. Equally we stand ready to engage with engage in industrial action. We will return to the WRC on 31st July, and our members will expect progress.”

INMO Director of Industrial Relations, Albert Murphy, said: “We are disappointed with yet another deferment from the employer’s side. We will attend the WRC on the 31st July with a firm expectation there will be a credible proposal from management to the unions involved in this long-running dispute. The workers who are at the centre of this dispute are not immune from the cost-of-living crisis. Their salaries have not meaningfully increased in fifteen years. The Government must take its role as a substantial financial backer to Section 39 organisations seriously and ensure that workers in these organisations have their salaries linked to the public service.”

SIPTU Health Members – Have your say on ongoing training and development

SIPTU is relaunching our College of Continuous Professional Development in partnership with the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland.

As a starting point, the Health Division is conducting a survey of all our members to assist us in developing the right courses that will meet the needs of our members.

The survey can also be accessed at this link.

The survey takes about 12 minutes to complete and is entirely anonymous. It will close on July 7th.

This is an opportunity for all our members to have their say on ongoing training and development in their workplaces.

You can download a poster for your workplace here.

World Whistleblowers Day 2023

Today is World Whistleblower’s Day; and the Health Division would like to take this opportunity to express our solidarity with whistleblowers everywhere who stand up to injustice.

Whistleblowing is more formally known as making a ‘protected disclosure’. The law protects workers who raise concerns about possible wrongdoing in the workplace they currently or previously worked in. They are also protected if they are dismissed or penalised for reporting possible wrongdoing.

People who raise concerns about possible wrongdoing in the workplace are protected by the Protected Disclosures Act 2014 (‘the 2014 Act’). It was updated by the Protected Disclosures (Amendment) Act 2022 (‘the 2022 Act). The 2022 Act also transposes the EU Whistleblowing Directive into Irish law.

A protected disclosure can be made if you are a worker and you disclose relevant information in a particular way. Information is relevant if it came to your attention in a work-related context and you reasonably believe that it tends to show wrongdoing.
Wrongdoing is widely defined and includes:

1) Criminal offences
2) Failure to comply with legal obligations
3) Breaches of certain European Union law
4) Endangering the health and safety of individuals
5) Damaging the environment
6) Miscarriage of justice
7) Misuse of public funds
8) Oppressive, discriminatory, grossly negligent or grossly mismanaged acts or omissions by a public body
9) Concealment or destruction of information about any of the above wrongdoing or any attempt to conceal or destroy such information

The following are generally not considered wrongdoings:
1) Workplace grievances which are exclusively personal
2) Disputes with your employer about your contract
3) Information that is disclosed in a legally privileged setting
4) If it is your job to detect, investigate or prosecute any wrongdoing and if the wrongdoing reported relates to a person other than the employer.

You should be aware that the above lists are not exhaustive and other examples may exist.

The Workplace Relations Commission has published information online regarding the protection of whistle-blowers.

*The above is for illustrative purposes only. SIPTU members are encouraged to speak to their shop steward, local Union Organiser or our Workers’ Rights Centre (1800 747 881) for more in depth advice if needed.

A Message to SIPTU Health Division Members on Public Services Day

Today (June 23rd) is Public Services Day. It is a United Nations Day which is intended to celebrate the value and virtue of public service to the community; highlight the contribution of public service in the development process; recognise the work of public servants and encourage young people to pursue careers in the public sector.

The last few years have demonstrated the importance of public healthcare as Ireland battled the Covid-19 virus. Employees within public health services were either fighting the virus in their own employments; or were redeployed to assist in other areas. They did this in the early days of the virus spreading, with little knowledge of what they were combatting and, in the very early days, while they awaited the delivery of life-saving PPE.

Staff in private healthcare and voluntary organisations also added to the effort to fight Covid-19. Workers in private nursing homes dealt with outbreaks. Private home care workers went into homes to care for the elderly and disabled in our communities. Private hospital workers dealt with cases that could not be cared for in the public system as it concentrated on dealing with Covid 19. Those working for disability services in the voluntary sector continued to provide care to their clients; and endeavoured to give them a sense normalcy in their lives while the virus raged.

We stood outside our homes and clapped for our ‘frontline heroes’. Citizens made goodwill gestures of every description to healthcare workers in their communities. People hung messages of solidarity with healthcare workers from the front of their houses. There was a genuine sense that we were all in this together.

Despite the near-universal recognition for the work done by our members, issues remain with the provision of public health services throughout the country.

Private companies continue to expand in the nursing home sector. Workers in voluntary organisations continue to provide essential services to the State while being paid a fraction of their colleagues in the public service.

And yet, our members continue to put their shoulder to the wheel in pursuit of fair pay and decent terms for union members.
Workers in Section 39 agencies have progressed their dispute to the point of taking industrial action, with more promised if pay justice is not secured in their sector. SIPTU continues to secure pay deals for workers in private and voluntary organisations. Our members in the public service have battled for increases in pay through the public service agreements and mechanisms such as the HSE Support Grade Job Evaluation Scheme. Members in all employments continue to argue and campaign for safe staffing. The Union continues to pursue a claim for an appropriate scheme to assist healthcare workers suffering from Long Covid.

All these efforts demonstrate one thing. There is value in being a member of a union. Our members not only campaign for their own issues but for a safe, and appropriately staffed health service for society at large.

SIPTU warns of crisis due to pay disparity in public and private home care services

SIPTU representatives have today (Wednesday, 21st June) warned that the disparity in pay between workers in public and private home care services is leading to a staffing crisis in the sector which is severely affecting vulnerable clients.

SIPTU Sector Organiser, Pat Flannery, said “The reality is that staff are moving from private and voluntary services to the public service as the HSE is moving to recruit Healthcare Support Assistants. Staff are voting with their feet and opting to work for an employer that provides better terms and conditions of employment. It is our firm belief that private and voluntary providers will continue to struggle to recruit if the issue of pay is not addressed.”

The warning comes on a day that the Dáil will debate a motion tabled by the Regional Group regarding the crisis in home care and shortages in home help hours. Among the measures called for in the motion is that the Government ensure that all training for people engaging in the home care industry is paid for by the State to assist private providers in replacing staff who have moved to jobs within the HSE.

Flannery said: “The ‘Report of the Strategic Workforce Advisory Group on Home Carers and Nursing Home Healthcare Assistants’ was published in September 2022 and contained 16 recommendations aimed at alleviating staffing issues in the sector. To date, the Government has only implemented one of these recommendations, which was to increase the number of work permits available for home carers to come from outside the EU to work in Ireland.

“The permits made available are for full-time positions with a minimum salary of €27,000. A Healthcare Support Assistant in the HSE can earn up to €40,738 working full-time and has access to far more favourable terms and conditions of employment including premium payments, travel and mileage payments, as well as access to a pension scheme. These benefits are not available to their private and voluntary sector counterparts in many instances.”

He added: “The absurdity of the situation is that many private and voluntary providers are contracted to provide services on behalf of the State. Yet staff are leaving these services to take up employment directly with the HSE due to the more favourable conditions of employment.”

SIPTU says mental health services at breaking point due to lack of staff and burnout

SIPTU representatives have highlighted the threat to the operation of mental health services through lack of staff and worker burnout at a Policy Forum for Ireland online seminar, on the ‘Next steps for mental health services in Ireland’ which took place today (Tuesday, 20th June).

Addressing the seminar, SIPTU Sector Organiser, John McCamley, said: “SIPTU has been to the fore in highlighting issues faced by our members in mental health services. They face heavy workloads and risk burnout due to a lack of staff.

“Problems with staffing are particularly acute in the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS). SIPTU representatives have requested a meeting with the Minister of State for Mental Health and Older People, Mary Butler, to highlight the concerns of our members who work in CAMHS.

“We note that the Minister has announced that she has commenced a series of high-level roundtable discussions with key stakeholders in CAMHS and have been informed that SIPTU representatives will be asked to participate. It is our view that an engagement that focuses on the experiences of workers in this sector should happen without delay. It is imperative that we deal with the issues relating to staffing if we are to stem the flow of workers leaving these services.”

He added: “We welcomed the opportunity to address the seminar on behalf of our members as often the voice of workers is missing when the future of essential public services is discussed.”

SIPTU Radiation therapists forced to work extended days to complete cancer treatments

SIPTU members employed as radiation therapists are struggling to provide cancer treatments within the working day.

In a recent survey of members conducted among union members, 91% of respondents said that their location provided an ‘overrun service’ in order to keep on top of caseloads.

SIPTU Sector Organiser, John McCamley, said: “An overrun service occurs when the scheduled service runs beyond the normal finish time. This can happen for a variety of reasons such as the addition of an emergency patient who requires treatment, delays with scheduled treatments throughout the day, machine breakdowns and to accommodate patients on waiting lists. Most radiation therapists will continue to treat scheduled patients until they are all seen.

“Our members have said this is as the result of a stretched service which is in desperate need of more radiation therapists to meet demand. They have also said that the practice is leading to burnout and difficulties with childcare. However, they are doing it out of care for the patients they are treating.”

Separately, the survey revealed that 84% of respondents believed that the public at large was not aware of the role of the radiation therapist in treating cancer.

McCamley continued: “Critically, our members feel as though their role is not recognised as being as crucial as it is in the treatment of cancer. Respondents felt that there is an awareness of the role that chemotherapy and surgery plays in the treatment of cancer, but not radiation therapy. This is despite the fact that radiation therapy is one of the main treatments of cancer.

“There is a view among our membership that you will likely not appreciate the significance of the the role of the radiation therapist unless you’re unfortunate enough to require their help some day.”

The SIPTU Radiation Therapist survey was completed in February 2023 across public and private practice. There are currently approximately 300 radiation therapists practicing in Ireland. Radiation therapy uses targeted high energy x-rays to treat patients with cancer..