Health workers strike for decent pay
Up to 10,000 health workers in 38 selected hospitals and health care facilities are taking action. Action for justice. Action for recognition. Action for respect.
The action will see SIPTU members providing portering, household and catering services and those working as healthcare assistants, maternity care assistants, laboratory aides, chefs and surgical instrument technicians take to the picket line in their pursuit of pay justice. The workers are in dispute with the Health Service Executive (HSE) over its failure to implement increases in pay for SIPTU members arising from a job evaluation scheme.
However, the roots of this dispute run deep. In 2015, following seven years of painful pay adjustments and changes to work practices, SIPTU members voted in overwhelming numbers to support the Lansdowne Road Agreement.
Seen by members as the first step in a journey towards full pay restoration, the agreement included the re-introduction of a Job Evaluation scheme.
The scheme had been suspended during the height of the economic crash in 2008 and its reintroduction gave SIPTU members hope that by staying the course, playing by the rules and working with their union there would be brighter days ahead.
Meanwhile, four long years have passed and SIPTU members are still waiting for this recognition. This is despite ballots for strike action in 2016 and 2018, both resulting in Workplace Relations Commission interventions. Health and other public service members also voted for the Public Service Stability Agreement (PSSA) in 2017.
The Health Service Executive (HSE) accepted the findings of the Job Evaluation scheme. It agreed that our members are doing more work, have more qualifications and are subject to additional health and safety protocols and practices than their job descriptions allowed for.
But when it comes to giving the lowest paid workers in the public health service the respect they deserve, the employers are slow to deliver. Just like union members across the public service and in low paid, precarious jobs in the private sector, these workers have to pay extortionate rents and mortgage repayments as well escalating childcare and other costs of living.
The implementation of this agreed job evaluation scheme will cost about €20 million, very small change considering the overall health budget of €18 billion, not to mention the cost of the Government’s recent financial mismanagement of public projects including the National Children’s Hospital (NCH) and the rural broadband plan.
However, when enough political pressure is put on them, the money is almost certain to be found. We saw it with the special deal given to the Garda, the rubberstamping of the gargantuan overspends in public infrastructure projects and the substantial pay out recommended by the Labour Court in the recent dispute involving nurses and midwives.
This dispute also comes at a time when the reintroduction of massive bankers’ bonuses is back on the agenda, when tax reliefs are subsidising the investments and savings of high earners at the expense of those on low and middle incomes and when hundreds of millions of euros are being paid into the pockets of the privateers running our creaking home care services into the ground.
The Government must now honour its obligations to health workers. SIPTU members have kept their heads down, worked hard and played by the rules.
The behaviour of the HSE and the two government departments has been interpreted by our members as disrespectful and dismissive as if nobody will miss them if they go on strike.
Thousands of health workers have formed the view that Fine Gael believe that support staff are not of any great value to the health service.
This view has been reaffirmed by the fact that neither the Minister for Health, Simon Harris, or the Minister for Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, Paschal Donohoe have made any comment or intervened in this dispute to date.
SIPTU representatives believe it is unacceptable that workers should be forced to go into an official dispute in order to get what they are owed. SIPTU members are not asking for flexibility or for a special deal. We are demanding that the Government honours its agreement, give our members the justice they deserve or face a summer of discontent in the health service.
In the end, all disputes are resolved. Crucially, how this dispute is resolved will undoubtedly shape our members attitude towards any future proposals for a successor to the PSSA.
The following is a list of hospitals where SIPTU members will take strike action:
- Cork University Hospital
- Cork University Maternity Hospital
- Kerry University Hospital
- Mallow General Hospital
- South Infirmary Hospital Cork
- South Tipperary General Hospital
- Wexford General Hospital
- St Lukes Hospital Carlow/Kilkenny
- Mercy Hospital Cork
- Connolly Hospital Blanchardstown
- National Rehabilitation Hospital
- Beaumont Hospital
- St Ita’s Portrane
- Mater Hospital
- St James Hospital
- St Vincent’s University Hospital
- Tallaght Hospital
- Our Lady’s Hospital Navan
- Louth County Hospital
- Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital Drogheda
- Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital Crumlin
- Rotunda Hospital
- Central Mental Hospital
- Midland Regional Hospital Mullingar
- Midland Regional Hospital Tullamore
- Midland Regional Hospital Portlaoise
- Naas General Hospital
- Cavan General Hospital
- Letterkenny University Hospital
- Sligo General Hospital
- Roscommon Hospital
- Portiuncula Hospital Ballinasloe
- Galway University Hospital
- Merlin Park
- Mayo University Hospital
- UL Hospital Dooradoyle
- UL Maternity Hospital
- UL Orthopaedic Hospital Croom