SIPTU seeks improved scheme to assist healthcare workers impacted by effects of Covid 19

SIPTU, and fellow health unions, are continuing to argue for a replacement scheme to Special Leave with Pay that better protects healthcare workers whose health has been impacted by Covid 19.

Following the decision to restrict the Special Leave with Pay scheme from the 30th of June 2022 to only include Government recommended isolation periods, SIPTU has sought to negotiate a new scheme for healthcare workers who cannot attend work due to a confirmed COVID infection. To date, the HSE and Department of Health has refused to negotiate on a new scheme but instead sought to impose a temporary replacement scheme on the health service.

It is understood that the terms of the replacement scheme have been issued within the HSE. There are several concerns regarding the replacement scheme, including the fact that it only covers a period of 12 months up to the 30th of June 2023 and that it will only cover healthcare workers in certain settings.

SIPTU has raised the fact that Long COVID has been confirmed as an Occupational Disease by the EU Advisory Body on Safety and Health at Work. The Union has also raised a recent case in Scotland in which Long COVID was confirmed as a disability for the purposes of the Equality Act 2010 by the Scottish Employment Tribunal.

SIPTU has argued the need for this dispute to be referred to the Workplace Relations Commission. The HSE and Department of Health are resisting those efforts. They have stated they will publish the circular to allow those covered by it to get the new payments, instead of sick leave, as soon as possible. SIPTU has advised the employers they are doing so without agreement as the Union claim remains to secure a new scheme fitting of all healthcare workers who require it.

SIPTU Health Divisional Organiser, Kevin Figgis, said “SIPTU’s priority is ensuring that any replacement scheme to Special Leave with Pay will take account of the risks posed by Covid 19 to healthcare workers performing their duties. Health unions have sought to negotiate a new scheme for healthcare workers who cannot attend work due to a confirmed COVID infection. It is our view that the appropriate forum in which to have these discussions is at the Workplace Relations Commission. Unfortunately, the HSE and Department of Health has delayed engaging with us in such a forum. It is important to note that the withdrawal of Special Leave with Pay, and its replacement by an inferior scheme, has taken place at a time in which the World Health Organization’s European office has warned of a “challenging” autumn and winter due to a rise in Covid-19 cases in the region.”

SIPTU Representatives attend launch of Framework for Safe Nurse Staffing and Skill Mix in Emergency Department Care

SIPTU representatives have today (Thursday, June 2nd) attended the launch of the report on Phase II of the Framework for Safe Staffing and Skill Mix – the policy for determining safe Nurse and Health Care Assistant staffing in Irish care settings. The report launched today specifically deals with safe staffing in adult Emergency Care settings.

Speaking after the launch John McCamley, SIPTU Sector Organiser for Nursing and Midwifery, said “SIPTU representatives have actively engaged with the rollout of the Framework for Safe Staffing and Skill Mix to date and welcome the publication of the report that deals with Emergency Care. Our Nursing and HCA members will be keenly interested in ensuring it is rolled out in EDs across the country to the benefit of staff and patients.”

“The Union will continue to press for the rollout of the Framework for Safe Staffing and Skill Mix across all areas of the health service.”

SIPTU criticise Department of Health for promoting two tier minimum wage

SIPTU has criticised the Department of Health for attempting to undermine the proper application of the statutory minimum wage system for care workers in the residential care sector.

SIPTU Health Division Organiser, Paul Bell, said: “If media reports today (Wednesday, 19th October) are correct, the Department of Health seems to believe the existing minimum wage rate of €9.15 per hour (€9.25 per hour from 1st January 2017) should be reduced for 4000 health workers performing ‘sleepover’ duties while caring for vulnerable citizens in community settings.

“It is unacceptable that the Department of Health is promoting and actively advancing the case for a two-tier minimum wage for workers in our health service which it deems to be ‘inactive’ during the night period of their duty. It is very disappointing that the Department of Health would promote such a move which, if accepted, could serve as a means to undermine the application of the minimum wage in the wider economy.”

He added: “Over the last number of years, our members fought a determined campaign to ensure people working in residential units where ‘sleepover’ duties are an integral part of their work, were paid appropriately for the vital service they provide. It has taken a European Court of Justice ruling and a Labour Court recommendation to convince the Health Service Executive and Government of its obligation to implement the European Working Time Directive for this essential work. This ensured workers were to be paid the minimum wage rather than a nominal allowance of €30 for a 10-hour night period which they had previously received.”

“We are calling on the Minster for Health, Simon Harris, to clarify the terms of the advice on this issue which he received from the Department. He must also state what he intends to do in order to reduce the number of ‘sleepover’ hours which health workers are forced to work.”