SIPTU calls on Minister to end pandemic payment delay for non-HSE and Section 38 workers

SIPTU representatives have called for the intervention of the Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly, to ensure that eligible health workers employed in private employments and Section 39 organisations receive their Pandemic Special Recognition Payment (PSRP) without further delay.

SIPTU Sector Organiser, Pat Flannery, said: “Our members are aware that a limited number of Section 39 agencies have made these payments to their eligible workforce but many have not. It has been reported that more than half of eligible workers who do not fall under the remit of the HSE or Section 38 agencies have yet to receive their payment.

“Agencies that do not fall under the remit of the HSE or Section 38 of the Health Acts received guidance from KOSI Corporation, which has been commissioned by the Government to oversee the process, in November 2022, advising them of the eligibility criteria for the PSRP. The guidance also set out how these organisations could submit a claim for the funding in order to make the payment to their workers.

“The KOSI guidance explained that it was intended that funds would be made available to these organisations to pay the PSRP by the end of November 2022, as long they submitted accurate claim forms by 11th November of that month.

“These workers put their shoulder to the wheel and provided essential care during the darkest days of the pandemic. The services they provided included care to the vulnerable in the intellectual disability sector, care to our elderly in communities around the country and nursing home care.”

He added: “The fact that these workers have been kept waiting for payment of PSRP is unacceptable. We are calling for the Minister of Health to intervene and make sure that funds are released to make these payments. Workers in these essential services cannot be expected to wait any longer. The PSRP was announced by the Government in January 2022. Surely it is time for all the workers eligible for this payment to receive it as some form of recognition for the work they did to protect our society and communities at great personal risk.”

SIPTU Nursing and Midwifery Sector Welcomes Government approval of additional supports for Student Nurses and Midwives

SIPTU’s Nursing and Midwifery Sector has today (December 13th 2022) welcomed an announcement from Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly, that it is his intention to provide additional supports for student nurses and midwives to the value of €9m.

In November 2021, the Minister published the Longer-Term Review of Matters Relating to Student Nurses and Midwives (McHugh Report). The review, carried out by Mr. Seán McHugh, made a number of recommendations that would enhance the pay and conditions of student nurses and midwives. Today, Minister Donnelly announced government approval for funding the following, in line with the recommendations in the McHugh report:

1) An enhanced Travel and Subsistence Scheme for student nurses and midwives in years 1 to 3 of their studies will see each receive €500 per year as a targeted measure to contribute towards meeting the extra costs of meals associated with practice placements outside the student’s core placement site.
2) A new rate of €80 for overnight accommodation is being introduced, along with an increased weekly cap of €300, for those students who require accommodation away from their normal place of residence while attending practice placements. This weekly cap is three times the cap introduced on 1st January 2022, and almost six times the previous cap.
3) Student nurses and midwives can also avail of, on a vouched basis, the reasonable cost of uniform laundry services during periods of overnight accommodation.
4) Pay will be re-instated at 80% of first year staff nurse/midwife pay scale, for internship students.
5) Two additional uniforms for student nurses and midwives at the start of their internship.

Speaking after the announcement, SIPTU Sector Organiser, John McCamley said “The announcement of government approval for funding to implement these elements of the McHugh report is welcomed. It follows a long-fought campaign by our members to address some of the financial hardships faced by student nurses and midwives during their placements; and we are hopeful that it will go some way towards encouraging people into the profession.”

“The Union will now be engaging with the Department of Health to ensure that these measures will be implemented without delay, now funding has been approved.”

SIPTU welcomes the establishment of Chief Health and Social Care Professional role in the Department of Health

SIPTU has welcomed news that the HSE has commenced an expressions of interest process to fill the newly created role of Chief Health and Social Care Professional in the Department of Health.

The news of the new role comes following a campaign by SIPTU for the role’s creation, so that there would be a focus on key issues faced by health and social care professionals (HSPCs) in the service.

The Chief HSCP Officer will report through the Assistant Secretary for Primary Care division. The Person will be initially based in the Strategic Workforce Planning Unit of the Department to support specialist policy development as a priority under the Sláintecare programme.
Some of the key functions of the Office will be to develop a Health and Social Care workforce planning strategy action plan; and to support the role of HSCPs to the maximum extent possible.

SIPTU Sector Organiser, John McCamley, said “Following engagement with relevant parties about this role over several years, we are welcoming the creation of the Chief Health and Social Care Professional. The input of health and social care professionals in the state funded health and social services is significant and requires specific policy input to support development of the professions in the context of Sláintecare.”

SIPTU says government report does little to resolve staffing crisis in care sector

SIPTU representatives have said that a Department of Health report on the recruitment and retention crisis for home carers and nursing home healthcare assistants will do little to resolve a problem which is threatening services across the country.

SIPTU Sector Organiser, Pat Flannery, said: “The Strategic Workforce Advisory Group on Home Carers and Nursing Home Healthcare Assistants, published last week, falls short of what is required to deal with staffing issues in the sector.

“While recommending the payment of the National Living Wage of €12.90 per hour in for-profit and voluntary settings, it does not recognise that this falls significantly short of wages for similar roles within the public service.

“The starting hourly rate for healthcare assistants and health care support assistants in the public service is €14.65 per hour. They earn €18.88 per hour at the top point of their salary scales.

“Staff will vote with their feet and opt to work for the public service, if this is not addressed.”

He added: “Other recommendations go some way to addressing the concerns of our members. These include, that as part of the tendering process for the provision of home support services, workers should be remunerated for travelling between clients’ homes and any reasonable travel expenses incurred.

“The report recommends a significant increase in the proportion of home support hours and packages provided directly by the HSE. As the situation stands, there are areas where home support packages are delivered almost exclusively by for-profit and voluntary providers.

“It also calls for the establishment of an Expert Working Group to investigate the appropriate mechanisms to reach agreement on pay and pensions for home support and healthcare assistants in the private and voluntary sector. SIPTU representatives will be ensuring that we have representation on this group.”

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.”