SIPTU members call for pay restoration at rally outside Department of Health

SIPTU Health Division members called on the Government to honour its commitment to restore their pay in line with national agreements at a rally today (Thursday, 30th April) outside the Department of Health, Dublin 2.

At the rally, frontline health workers and support staff heard speeches stating that because workers had fulfilled their commitments under the Haddington Road Agreement it was now time for the Government to meet its obligation to resort their pay.

Addressing the rally, SIPTU General President, Jack O’Connor, called for the restoration workers’ pay and dismissed what he described as “myths about the public sector”.

“One myth,” he said, “is that there is some kind of conflict between the people who work in the public service and the interests of the citizens who utilise them.

“There is no conflict, we all share an interest in winning the battle for a good public services, for a good public health service.”

Roisin Quinn, a health care assistant and SIPTU activist, said: “SIPTU is in a battle now to make our jobs more sustainable that will support the long term interest of the people we care about and care for.”

Concluding the rally, SIPTU Health Division Organiser, Paul Bell, called for the Government to live up to its commitments by initially restoring the earnings of lower paid workers.

He said: “Looking to the future we believe that the Government working with SIPTU have an opportunity to commence a journey which will see the closing of the gap between low to middle income earners and those at the top.

“This position is not just about pay and economics its about our society going forward.”

Low paid workers must be focus of pay talks

Pay talks for health workers must focus on the low paid and cannot be linked to demands for further improvements in productivity was the message from the ‘Ending the Emergency – SIPTU Health Division Conference’, held in the Mansion House Dublin on Thursday, 23rd April.

Addressing delegates at the conference SIPTU Health Division Organiser, Paul Bell, said: “Looking to the future we believe that the Government working with SIPTU have an opportunity to commence a journey which will see the closing of the gap between low to middle income earners and those at the top.

“This position is not just about pay and economics its about our society going forward.”

Bell was responding to an earlier address by Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Brendan Howlin, in which he stated that talks between public sector unions and the Government, which are expected to begin in May, “in the first instance will concentrate on ensuring the lower paid public servant benefits proportionately better.”

In her presentation to the conference SIPTU national Campaigns and Equality Organiser, Ethel Buckley, outlined the union’s plans for SIPTUhealth.ie and the progress that has been made on the site so far.

SIPTUhealth.ie was launched in October 2014 in response to members demand for their own dedicated communications platform. In only seven months we have had 89,000 visits to the website. We put out a 100-day user survey recently to members to get their feedback on what we can do to improve the content and layout of the site. Members feedback is being actioned and we are very encouraged by their contribution.”

She also said that members would be kept informed of development during the upcoming talks process with the government through a phone bank system, which was currently being developed as part of the union’s campaign in support of the marriage equality referendum on Twitter and SIPTU Health Plus.

Other issues that were focused upon at the conference were ensuring, that the 1,300 health workers in support services on Intern contracts are made permanent.

There were also calls for the practice of issuing zero hours contracts for those working in community sector home care services to be ended along with the outsourcing of support service positions to for profit private companies.

Among the other speakers at the conference were Orlagh Fawl of the SIPTU Strategic Organising Department, Dr. Thomas Stephen, a health policy expert based at Trinity College Dublin and Dr. Micheál Collins of the Nevin Economic Research Institute.

For videos of the conference click on the text below. 

SIPTU seeks Government action to end zero-hour contracts for home care workers

SIPTU has demanded urgent action by the Government to end the imposition of zero-hour contracts on home care workers in voluntary sector organisations which are funded by the Health Service Executive (HSE) to provide public health care schemes.

SIPTU Health Division Organiser, Paul Bell, said: “It has come to the attention of SIPTU that a number of voluntary sector organisations providing public home care services are employing staff on zero-hour contracts.

“In recent weeks we have engaged with the HSE on this issue. It is apparent that the HSE is aware that vulnerable workers are being exploited by the imposition of zero-hour contracts. In recent months it has requested that the thirty two community and voluntary sector organisations, which it funds to provide home care services, confirm the number of employees on their books and the number of hours of service being provided to service users in their area.”

Paul Bell added: “SIPTU has challenged the HSE on its failure to ensure that basic employment standards are part of any tender for the provision of publicly funded services. We have also directly contacted the Minister for State with responsibility for the elderly and disabled, Kathleen Lynch, and Minister of State at the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Ged Nash, seeking information on how this situation has been allowed to go unchecked for several years.

“The Government must put its own house in order in relation to zero-hour contracts. Immediate action is needed to produce legislation aimed at eliminating this employment practice which subjugates and impoverishes vulnerable workers. This situation has entrapped hundreds of mainly women workers who are providing community health services on a third party contracted basis. Many find themselves ineligible for social welfare payments or Family Income Supplement even though they cannot secure the necessary number of working hours to support themselves and their families.”

Approximately 3,500 home helps work for community and voluntary sector organisations which are fully funded by the HSE. It is estimated that up to a third of these workers are employed on a zero-hour contract basis. That’s no way to live. Home helps directly employed by the HSE benefit from a binding Labour Court recommendation which guarantees a basic nine hour working week.

SIPTU workers in the Central Mental Hospital secure €2 million compensation

SIPTU members working in the Central Mental Hospital, Dublin, have secured a compensation package valued at over €2 million resulting from a management re-configuration of hospital services that led to an erosion of workers’ terms and conditions.

SIPTU Organiser, David Field, said: “Protracted negotiations between union representatives and management failed to deliver an acceptable result for our members so this case was brought to the Labour Court. It has issued a binding recommendation that up to 100 of our members affected must be compensated by over €2 million in total.”

SIPTU Health Division Organiser, Paul Bell, said the Labour Court recommendation is a vindication of the union’s position concerning the right of workers for full compensation when their terms and conditions are altered by management. 

He added: “This Labour Court recommendation not only vindicates the determination of our members to achieve a fair and just outcome but it also, once and for all, clarifies that the employer, in this case the HSE, has no right to select which elements of loss in terms of workers’ terms and conditions it will compensate for when it instigates changes. This is a fundamental issue for all unions who are bound by the Haddington Road public service agreement.

“Our members should now be paid the compensation owed to them without delay.”

SIPTU shop steward, Luke Quirke, said: “The decision by management to compensate for only selected losses of income was a step too far for workers. We are delighted with the decision of the Labour Court to compensate workers for their full losses of earnings.”

He added: “SIPTU members fought this case for adequate compensation because workers have made significant sacrifices, both individually and collectively, since the beginning of the economic downturn. Our job is to improve services and the quality of life for some of Ireland’s most vulnerable citizens. This victory reminds us that in order to provide better health care to patients we need to fight for better jobs for health workers”.

SIPTU warn Haddington Road deal breached on outsourcing

SIPTU has criticized the HSE over their unilateral decision to outsource all support services in Mount Carmel Hospital, South Dublin.

SIPTU Health Divisional Organiser Paul Bell said: “This decision is a clear and unambiguous breach of the Public Service Agreement. The HSE have never at any time spoke to this Union who represents these grades which they are obliged to under the service delivery clause in the agreement.

Bell told SIPTUhealth.ie that he intends to confront this decision and has not ruled out industrial action. “I have already put the HSE on notice last week in a formal letter to Corporate Employee Relations of our members deep concern in this regard and it will be brought up on this weeks agenda of the Health Service Oversight Body.”

“We are conscious of the zealousness of certain interests within both the Department of Health and Department of Public Expenditure and Reform demonstrating an anxiety to outsource as many of our members jobs as possible. This attitude is not acceptable and is most unhelpful with Government having confirmed that the staff recruitment embargo has been lifted and that the “emergency’ is now over with confirmation of pay talks in April or May,” Bell concluded.

SIPTU calls for increase in Home Help services at Dáil hospital crisis protest

SIPTU Health Division Organiser, Paul Bell, told over 100 health workers protesting outside Leinster House this afternoon (Wednesday, 14th January) that an immediate increase in Home Help services is critical to solving the overcrowding crisis in our hospitals.

Addressing the protest, organised by unions calling for government action to end the overcrowding crisis in hospital emergency departments, Paul Bell, said: “A lack of available hospital beds is a crucial factor in this worsening crisis. However, there are currently 800 patients waiting to be discharged from hospitals across the State.

“While many of these patients will need nursing home care, many more can and should be enabled to return to their own homes where they can be supported through HSE Home Help services. We have thousands of SIPTU members working as Home Helps who are ready, willing and able to provide the necessary supports to facilitate such a process.”

He added: “The crisis in our hospitals is integrally linked to the running down of health services within our communities. Nearly three million hours have been cut from Home Help services since 2008, with cutbacks only coming to a halt after a concerted campaign by our union.

Watch video of protest here

SIPTU calls for increased funding for Home Care service to help ease hospitals crisis

SIPTU has called on the Minister for Health, Leo Varadkar, to immediately increase funding to HSE Home Care services in order to tackle the issue of delayed discharge and overcrowding of patients across the public hospital network.

SIPTU Health Division Organiser, Paul Bell, said: “There are currently 800 patients waiting to be discharged from hospitals across the State. While many of these will need nursing home care, many more can and should be enabled to return to their own homes where they can be supported through HSE Home Care services. We have thousands of SIPTU members working as Home Helps who are ready, willing and able to provide the necessary supports to facilitate such a process.

“However, over 2 million hours have been cut from Home Care services since 2008, with cutbacks only coming to a halt after a concerted campaign by our union. One legacy of these cuts is that patients who could be supported at home are now more likely to remain in hospital care. At the same time underemployment is now a common feature throughout the Home Care workforce”.

A SIPTU survey has revealed that nearly 7 out of 10 Home Care workers currently have less than 20 hours work per week. The same survey also indicates that 4 out of 5 such workers are seeking additional hours of work. This means in many cases a home care service could be provided for hospital patients enabling many of them to return to live in their own homes under a tailored care plan.

Paul Bell added: “The minister needs to act now to restore funding and hours to this critical service as a key measure to address the ongoing hospital crisis. A comprehensive Government response which addresses the issues of understaffing in our hospitals, and the restoration of hospital beds remains central to any long-term solution to the current crisis. However, provision of adequate funding for HSE Home Care services is one important measure that could quickly assist in alleviating the current situation.”

SIPTU demand HIQA immediately inspect overcrowded hospitals

SIPTU has called on the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) to immediately inspect hospitals around the country where patient and staff safety is threatened by severe overcrowding. 

SIPTU Health Divisional Organiser, Paul Bell, said: “SIPTU members are very concerned that there is no plan to address the worrying trend that has been developing since September of patient safety, dignity and care being threatened by severe overcrowding”.

He added that due to the HSE being unable to confirm that the identified hospitals are safe for both patients and staff the HIQA must investigate urgently.

“Our members are asking why, despite this growing national emergency in our hospitals, the statutory body tasked with ensuring levels of patient safety are maintained, HIQA, has not begun inspecting these facilities. These hospitals are clearly overrun and understaffed. Our members are calling on HIQA to put the public’s mind at ease by investigating whether or not these hospitals are safe for patients and staff.

“SIPTU members are astonished that this crisis has been allowed to get to this stage. Let’s be very clear we are not here because of a winter vomiting bug or a flu epidemic. We are here because if you strip away 2000 hospital beds through cuts, if you don’t recruit and retain nurses, health care assistants and emergency personal, you end up with the kind of dysfunctional health service that our members are working in and patients are being treated in.” 

SIPTU calls for replacement of agency health workers with directly employed staff

SIPTU has called for the Government to implement a policy of replacing agency workers with directly recruited staff following the release of figures indicating that the Department of Health and HSE paid out €238 million to private recruitment companies during 2013.

SIPTU Health Division Organiser, Paul Bell, said: “It is not a surprise that recruitment agencies have been the big winners due to the rigid application of the embargo on recruiting staff by the public service since 2010. The €238 million spent on employing agency workers in the public health service in 2013 was despite an instruction to all managers throughout the HSE and related agencies not to use agency staff.

“SIPTU members working in frontline posts in nursing, midwifery and as support staff have over the past four years bitterly complained about the amount of monies being spent on recruitment agencies’ commission and VAT to hire in workers for positions that should be long term directly recruited posts. The policy does not make economic sense. It is based around the false economy of moving staff numbers ‘off balance sheet’ so it can be claimed that permanent staff numbers can be reduced without any impact on services or patients”.

Paul Bell added: “The SIPTU campaign to stop the overreliance on the use of agency staff met with success in Budget 2015 when Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform,  Brendan Howlin, announced the ending of the staff recruitment embargo with immediate effect.

“However, the ending of the recruitment embargo alone will not end the reliance on agency staff. The Government must redirect the monies provided to agency firms to the HSE to directly recruit staff.  SIPTU is calling on the HSE to identify each post filled by an agency worker and, where appropriate, open a recruitment competition to fill the position on a direct contract basis.

“The issue of reducing staff numbers in the health service should not be about optics; it should also be based on value for money. It is now clear that the only organisations that benefited from the chaos caused by the Fianna Fáil/Green Party Government’s implementation of an unlimited voluntary redundancy scheme in 2010 were private recruitment agencies some of which have earned tens of millions of euros each year since this disastrous policy was introduced”.