SIPTU seeks “urgent” meeting with HSE over recruitment freeze

SIPTU Health Division has called for an urgent meeting with the Health Service Executive (HSE) and Department of Health following the decision to implement a recruitment freeze on many grades represented by the union within the health service.

The freeze was revealed in a HSE memo, released today, which confirmed that grades such as Health Care Assistants, Healthcare Support Assistants (or Home Helps), porters, catering assistants, chefs, security personnel and others will all be affected by the decision.

The union said that such a freeze would also affect agency staff, who have traditionally been used to fill vacant posts, maternity leave or long-term sick leave within the healthcare workforce.

Kevin Figgis, SIPTU Divisional Organiser, said: “The decision to implement a recruitment freeze on many of the grades represented by our union has come as a great shock to our members. Many of the grades affected are patient-facing and there will be an inevitable knock-on effect on services.

“What is most alarming about this decision is that we are fast approaching the difficult winter period. Services already struggle to contain the pressures which invariably arise. Our members will now face an impossible situation if a recruitment freeze prohibits the refilling of a vacant patient-facing post within the acute setting or community healthcare.”

Damian Ginley, SIPTU Sector Organiser, said: “Our members provide direct care to patients in hospital or through the community in services such as Healthcare Support Assistants. Their patients and service users are some of the most vulnerable people in society and also some of the most in need of support.

“The HSE has recently stated its wish to extend service provision across the weekend. The decision today will stop any of those plans in their tracks as existing staff are under enough pressure as it is.”

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 calls for investment in healthcare workers on World Health Day

To mark World Health Day (7th April), the SIPTU Health Division has called for more investment in the working conditions of all healthcare workers to be prioritised. Union members are seeking to end the unfair system in which support workers in the public health service receive less financial supports than other healthcare colleagues when they are the victim of an assault in the workplace. SIPTU members are also seeking a replacement scheme to financially assist those are suffering with the impact of Long Covid and fair pay for workers in Section 39 agencies.

SIPTU’s Health Divisional Organiser, Kevin Figgis, said: “World Health Day is an opportune time for us to reflect on the role that all healthcare workers play in the provision of health services in the State and to consider how they might be appropriately remunerated for the essential services they provide.

“SIPTU has been leading the campaign to end the unjust system in which healthcare workers who are employed as support workers do not receive the same level of financial support as their other healthcare colleagues if they are assaulted in the workplace. This policy has no place in a modern healthcare system which should respect the contribution and work of all healthcare workers equally.

“SIPTU and our colleague health unions are also still awaiting an engagement at the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) regarding our claim for a replacement scheme to assist healthcare workers who are suffering with the impact of Long Covid. Healthcare workers, who stood on the frontline of the pandemic on behalf of the public, deserve assistance when dealing with the chronic impact of Long Covid.

“SIPTU is also actively campaigning for a fair resolution on the matter of pay justice for Section 39 workers. It is beyond belief that workers who are providing essential frontline services on behalf of the State are still waiting for this matter be dealt with in a fair and just manner.”

“There is no healthcare system without the workers that provide the services on which we all depend. All workers in the health service matter. Investment in the working conditions of healthcare workers is fundamental to building a decent healthcare system.”

SIPTU calls on Minister for Health to end disparity in payments to assaulted healthcare workers

SIPTU representatives have written to the Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly, today (Wednesday, 15th March), seeking action by him to address the disparity in payments to public healthcare workers who are victims of serious physical assault in the workplace.

SIPTU Health Division Organiser, Kevin Figgis, said: “SIPTU representatives highlighted the disparity in payments to healthcare workers who are victims of serious physical assault at a meeting of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health in February.

“We highlighted the fact that under the HSE Serious Physical Assault Scheme, healthcare support workers are only eligible to receive payments for three months while other grades may receive payments for up to a year, even if they are assaulted in the same incident. SIPTU representatives also provided statistical data that demonstrates that support workers suffer the second highest level of assaults in healthcare workplaces, after nursing staff.

“Our union had to seek the intervention of the Minister for Health on this matter. This follows our lodging of a claim to have equality for support workers under the HSE Serious Physical Assault Scheme in late 2021. While the HSE noted the merits of the claim, we were advised that it would need the sanction of the Department of Health to address our concerns. The matter has remained with the Department of Health since then with no sign of resolution or progress. As such, we have decided to call for action directly from the Minister for Health.”

He added: “There is no justification for support workers being treated any less favourably than their healthcare colleagues when they are dealing with the fallout of an assault in their workplace. We expect the Minister to now take action to resolve this completely unacceptable situation.”

SIPTU supports Seanad motion on equality for healthcare staff assaulted at work

The SIPTU Health Division has called on all parties to back a motion that will be tabled in Seanad Éireann this evening (Wednesday, 22nd February) which calls on supports for healthcare staff, who suffer an assault in the workplace, to be based on equality of access and not the grade of the worker involved.

SIPTU Health Division Organiser, Kevin Figgis, said: “This motion, which is being tabled by the Labour Party, calls on the government to address the issue of inequality in the treatment of healthcare workers assaulted in the workplace which was highlighted in a SIPTU submission to the Joint Oireachtas Health Committee on 8th February.

“At the Joint Oireachtas Health Committee, we highlighted the fact that healthcare workers employed as support staff within the public health service only receive 25% of the benefits that their colleagues in other grades in the event of an assault at work.

“At the hearing, SIPTU highlighted that, after their nursing colleagues, support grade staff endure the second-highest level of assaults in the workplace, according to HSE data. We also raised the fact that, according to the HSE data, 41% of support staff assaulted at work are still unfit to return after three months by which time they have exhausted their entitlements under the HSE Serious Physical Assault Scheme.

“They are then, predominately, moving to ordinary sick pay, while their colleagues employed in other grades are continuing to receive payments under the HSE Serious Physical Assault Scheme. This policy is outdated and we support the call in the motion to end this disparity.”

He added: “In addition, the motion also calls on the Government to conduct a review of all relevant protocols to ensure procedures, staffing levels and training are appropriate to minimise the risk of injury from an assault to a healthcare worker. It also calls for the development of a public awareness campaign which highlights some of the examples of assaults on healthcare workers. Both these measures were included in the SIPTU submission to the Joint Oireachtas Health Committee earlier this month.”

SIPTU to raise disparity in support for assaulted health workers at Oireachtas Committee

SIPTU representatives will raise the disparity in supports for assaulted health sector staff at a meeting of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health, tomorrow (Wednesday, 8th February). The Committee is meeting to discuss the safety and welfare of workers in the public health service.

SIPTU Health Division Organiser, Kevin Figgis, said: “Our union welcomes the opportunity to address the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health so we can highlight some of the concerns of our members regarding their safety and welfare at work. We also want to use the opportunity to present some tangible solutions in this area.

“A key concern for our members is the disparity in financial supports available to healthcare workers based on their role within the public health service. Figures provided by the HSE demonstrate that all healthcare workers face a real threat of physical assault in the workplace. They also show that support staff, which includes healthcare assistants, porters, catering, cleaning and security staff, are the second biggest category impacted by serious physical assaults in the workplace after nurses.

“However, support staff only receive 25% of the financial supports afforded to allied health professionals, clerical officers and nursing staff, even if they are all assaulted in the same incident.

“No worker should have to face the threat of assault in the workplace. If an unfortunate incident does occur, it must be ensured that all policies designed to support workers should be based on equality of access and not grade.”

He added: “SIPTU will also raise the need to give financial assistance to healthcare workers who are diagnosed with Covid-19 or affected by Long Covid. While there was such a scheme in place for public service healthcare workers, it was withdrawn in July 2022.

“A temporary scheme is in place, but we have been advised that this will cease in July 2023. This is despite the fact that the EU Advisory Committee for Safety and Health at Work has confirmed the need to recognise Covid-19 as an occupational disease.”

“In addition, SIPTU representatives will raise the need for safe staffing levels, based on need, across all departments and concerns our members have expressed in relation to the HSE Dignity at Work policy.”

SIPTU seeks urgent meeting with Minister and HSE on safe staffing levels in CAMHS

SIPTU representatives have written today (Tuesday, 24th January) to the Minister of State for Mental Health and Older People, Mary Butler, and the management of the HSE requesting an urgent meeting to discuss safe staffing levels in Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS).

SIPTU Sector Organiser, John McCamley, said: “We welcome the publication of the Interim Report on the Independent Review of the Provision of Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) in the State by the Inspector of Mental Health Services and that the HSE has accepted its findings. This interim report indicates that there are issues regarding safe staffing within the service that need to be addressed.

“It notes that there is currently no benchmark in place for the safe staffing of child and adolescent mental health services. The report also noted that low staff morale and burnout are issues and that some staff are working above their contracted hours, for no additional compensation, in order to provide therapeutic interventions.”

He added: “SIPTU representatives have recently raised concerns about staffing in CAMHS, particularly in the Cork Kerry Community Healthcare Organisation. It’s clear that a focus now needs to be placed on establishing a safe staffing level for child and adolescent mental health services. In order to progress this issue we have written to the Minister of State and the HSE to seek an urgent meeting to discuss what must be done.”

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.”

Sláintecare essential to reform of dysfunctional healthcare system says Shortall

Full implementation of the Sláintecare policy is essential for the effective reform of our health and social care services, Social Democrats co-leader, Róisín Shortall, told the SIPTU Health Division Biennial Delegate Conference in Waterford on Wednesday, 26th October.

Shortall said: “Sláintecare is a 10-year roadmap for reform of our health and social care services, to get us from the current two-tier unfair and unequal and in many ways dysfunctional, health service to a universal single-tier health and social care service where people can access timely care on the basis of health need and not on their ability to pay.

“The Sláintecare report was published in May 2017 so we’re now coming to the end of year five, and the question is ‘What have we got to show for it?’ The first two years consisted of lip-service from the Fine Gael government where the Minister for Health talked the talk but didn’t actually walk the walk. The term Sláintecare became a convenient brand for him to wrap himself in.

“It seemed that most senior government politicians assumed that Sláintecare would go the way of those other health reports and be forgotten. However, when it came to the general election in early 2020, Sláintecare was adopted as official policy by all parties. No one had a Plan B.”

She added: “Like many things in life, the causes of the dysfunction and inequality of our health service are down to political choices, bad choices, which favour vested interest over the public interest.”

SIPTU Health Division Organiser, Kevin Figgis, said “Change is an integral part of working within the health service. Our members have demonstrated their ability to work in a changing environment over many, many years. They will not be found wanting when it comes to engaging with the implementation of Sláintecare.”

He added: “However, as we begin to grapple with what this entails, we will be doing so from the principled position that we will not be engaging with any programme that could be seen as eroding the hard-won terms and conditions that our members have fought for. SIPTU will not be engaging with any reform agenda that includes the outsourcing of our members’ roles to third parties.”

Róisín Shortall addressed the SIPTU Health Division Biennial Delegate Conference in the Tower Hotel, The Mall, Waterford City as a guest speaker on October 26th.

Public Service Pay Campaign Update – 24th August 2022

SIPTU Officials representing members in the Health, Local Government, Education and State-Related Sectors attended a meeting in Liberty Hall on Wednesday, 24th August. At this meeting they were updated on the union’s Public Service Pay Campaign and considered the invitation from the Workplace Relations Commission to attend a resumption of talks on Public Service pay beginning next Monday, 29th August.

Following the meeting, SIPTU Deputy General Secretary and Secretary of the Public Services Committee of Congress, John King, said that union representatives will attend the upcoming talks as part of the ICTU delegation. He said the focus of these talks will be to conclude a review of the pay terms of the ‘Building Momentum’ Public Service Pay Agreement, which has been sought by SIPTU and other unions since March 2022.

SIPTU, as part of the Public Services Committee of ICTU, is currently consulting with its members and preparing for ballots on industrial and strike action. This is part of a campaign to secure a review of the pay terms of the ‘Building Momentum’ agreement which adequately compensate workers for the loss in the value of their earnings which has accrued due to the cost of living crisis and high rate of inflation.

King said the consultation process with SIPTU members in the Public Service will continue and in the absence of a successful outcome to the talks, which are recommencing on Monday, that the union will begin balloting members on industrial and strike action in early September.