Sunday Read – Hope for a better tomorrow

Ireland is set to reopen at the end of June as we prepare to exit the lockdown following the outbreak of the coronavirus on our shores. However, health experts, the world over, say there is a good chance the coronavirus will be with us for a long time yet.

A coronavirus-tinged world without a foreseeable end may be the cause of great fear for millions of people but with fear comes hope. Hope for a better tomorrow. Hope for a “new normal” that works for the many.

Standing Together and Strong against Racism

“It is the fight for equality upon which racial justice is built. Without economic equality we cannot hope to stamp out racism and xenophobia”, writes SIPTU Equality activist and SIPTU Health Division member Yvonne Mefor as she reflects on racism and its impacts in this weeks Sunday Read.

As we watch events unfold in the United States in the wake of yet another unjust killing of a black person, we must take heart in the hope that is being unfurled by the activism of society in calling out these injustices of racism.

Racism in our workplaces and communities is not always visible it often lingers in the air, so it would be wrong to say that it does not exist in Irish society.

It is important to emphasize the effects that racism and racial conflict have on the emotional and mental state of those affected by this injustice.  When institutional and structural racism become a continuum chipping away at people’s social and physical components the end result can be a mental and emotional crisis. Interpersonal racism is often forgotten in the scheme of the general health and wellbeing of the individuals.

The impact racism has on ethnic and racial minority peoples’ health and wellbeing makes it a public health issue and a central component of the political agenda worldwide.

The World Health Organisation framework to strengthen health equities globally and within countries is based on the social determinants of health.  This framework highlights how social stratification influences early life and the social and physical environments in which individuals develop and interact. Among these structural factors, biases and values within society, social position, ethnicity and race, and psychosocial factors are central determinants of the distribution of health and wellbeing in our society.

It is important that institutional, emotional and mental racism are stamped out here in Ireland. In the words of Angela Davis,  “Racism is systematic, its outbursts are not isolated incidents”.

Although many say that racism is borne out of hate it is in fact inequality that is a root cause of racism. Inequality allows people to perceive others as being less than them, for some people to feel superior and to actively exclude other people in our communities. It is inequality amongst marginalised groups, such as the travelling community and those in direct provision that exacerbates this.

It is the fight for equality upon which racial justice is built. Without economic equality we cannot hope to stamp out racism and xenophobia.

As a trade union activist, I know that unions have a critical role to play in promoting fairness, equality and freedom from violence for all workers, regardless of age, race, religion, ability, sex, gender identity and gender expression, or sexuality.

The collective action of working people through their union fighting for equality can have a profound effect on eradicating all forms of discrimination, racism and xenophobia not only in our workplaces but also in our society. As unions we can educate and empower our members to fight against racism and xenophobia so that all workplaces are welcoming and inclusive.

Through SIPTU’s Migrant Workers Support Network our union has built on its long tradition of anti-racism to ensure that we maintain a culture of inclusiveness, equality and solidarity amongst our members.

Asylum seekers have endured years of exclusion and mistreatment by the Irish state through the inhumane direct provision system. SIPTU’s work with the Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland (MASI) has seen our union  reach out to those in direct provision in their fight for their human rights to be respected. SIPTU’s hosting of MASI’s first annual conference in 2019 saw our union provide practical help as well as moral support to one of the most marginalised groups in our society.

Throughout the current public health crisis, our union has continued to work closely with organisations such as the Migrant Rights Centre Ireland (MRCI) highlighting the work of undocumented people including workers in the care sector and representing the interests of workers in the meat industry.

It is important that the voice of those impacted first hand by racism and xenophobia are listened to and amplified.  With our union we ask others to be our ally in bringing to light racism in Irish workplaces, communities and society. We know that these conversations are uncomfortable sometimes, that they evoke feelings of both sadness and anger at the injustices being inflicted, but it is only by working together in solidarity, united by our common fight for equality that we can truly change our society for the better.

SIPTU expresses concern over rising number of health workers testing positive for COVID-19

SIPTU Health representatives have today (Wednesday, 25th March) expressed concerns over the increase in the number of health workers who have tested positive for COVID-19 virus. The numbers confirmed by the Department of Health indicate that health care workers make up 26% of all cases identified in the State.

SIPTU Divisional Organiser, Paul Bell, said: “The official figures show that health care workers make up 26% of all COVID-19 cases so far identified by public health officials. 63% of these cases were not travel related and the median age is 45 years old for those infected. SIPTU members have said that the numbers are related to the availability of Personal Protection Equipment (PPE). Our members are reporting that PPE is not readily available to all health workers in the quantities required. This issue must be given high priority as some hospital departments are now telling SIPTU representatives that stock rooms have no PPE left and health workers are resorting to re-using equipment normally only fit for single use. This situation is entirely unacceptable.”

Paul Bell also called on the Government to urgently review its approach to testing all health workers for COVID-19 regularly.

“While we are not being critical of the Government’s efforts to lead the country through this crisis we must express the deep concerns of our members. If we are to learn from the experiences of other countries which have successfully combatted the coronavirus surge in hospitals it must be to ensure the health and safety of all workers caring for COVID-19 patients.

“In other health services such as those in South Korea and Hong Kong, the coronavirus has been more effectively contained with the frequent testing of all health workers through a dedicated monitoring system. This can ensure that the virus does not spread more widely and that the maximum number of health workers are available for duty 100% of the time.”

He added: “Getting these critical elements of COVID-19 control right can only help public health officials bring this public health emergency to an earlier end.”

Inquest highlights the urgent need for emergency ambulance hand-over protocol

SIPTU representatives have tonight (Wednesday 4th December) demanded the introduction of an emergency hand-over protocol to assist ambulance crews who are unable to hand over patients to hospital staff due to overcrowding and lack of bed capacity.

The call comes as the Medical Director of the National Ambulance Service, Professor Cathal O’Donnell, told an inquest into the death of Margaret Callaghan today that the issue of ambulance hand-over delay is “endemic” and it is getting worse.

SIPTU Health Division Organiser, Paul Bell said: “Our members have again expressed their deep concerns that the overcrowding crisis is obstructing them from doing their jobs effectively and they have demanded that an emergency handover protocol is put in place immediately to deal with it. We have an unacceptable situation where ambulance professionals and very expensive equipment is being held up for hours while other patients need immediate care. This is not sustainable and the Minister for Health needs to get involved before more lives are tragically lost. We need an immediate contingency plan to deal with this once and for all.”

He added: “We also need to see a dramatic increase in bed capacity to alleviate overcrowding and trolley pressure and to assist our members in the National Ambulance Service in the hand-over of patients.”

SIPTU will not allow Section 39 workers battle to pay justice to be ignored

SIPTU representatives have today (Friday, 14th September) confirmed that thousands of Section 39 health and social care workers will participate in a one day national strike next Tuesday (18th September) to highlight their claim for full pay restoration.

A demonstration to be addressed by ICTU General Secretary, Patricia King, outside the Department of Health in Dublin will take place from noon on the same day.

SIPTU Health Division Organiser, Paul Bell, said: “Our members deferred strike action last February at the request of the Minister for Health, Simon Harris, to allow for a Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) process to be initiated.

The process was designed to allow for an orderly resolution to our members’ legitimate dispute. The process agreed between the parties in February resulted in the gathering of data from fifty nominated Section 39 employers which confirmed that none of these organisations had the necessary financial resources to commence pay restoration.”

He added: “What is most staggering about this dispute is that An Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, confirmed on the floor of Dáil Eireann that these workers, many of them low paid, have an established pay link with the public service and as such are entitled to pay restoration in line with directly employed counterparts, under the FEMPI legislation. It should be remembered that Dáil Eireann voted unanimously in favour of a Fianna Fail private members’ motion seeking pay restoration for these workers.

It is incomprehensible to our members that the Government and HSE acknowledge that the monies are owed, yet will not pay them.

“The WRC process did produce a formula of how Section 39 organisations could make applications for the funding necessary to pay our members. SIPTU, ICTU and other unions have agreed that this proposed formula is acceptable.

However, the formula can only work with initial funding in the region of €4 million. It is also important to recognise that this campaign for pay justice has received cross-party support, including from disabilities minister, Finian McGrath, and massive public backing.”

 

Congress Calls on Government to Restore Pay to Section 39 Workers

Today (Monday, September 3rd) ICTU General Secretary Patricia King has called on the Government to restore pay to Section 39 workers, in line with the public sector agreement. King has specifically called on the Minister for Finance and the Minister for Health to immediately make available resources to resolve the dispute.

“The workers in Section 39 Organisations had their pay cut in line with cuts imposed on workers in the public sector. Now that pay is being restored in the public sector workers in Section 39 Organisations should also receive the terms of the public sector pay agreement.”

Patricia King’s comments follow a meeting earlier today in which SIPTU, FÓRSA and UNITE confirmed that they would be consulting with members to consider what action is appropriate in light of the failure of Government to address the issue of pay restoration for workers in Section 39 Organisations.

Pay restoration and progression in play

Last October, SIPTU members commenced a campaign for pay restoration in Section 39 organisations.

This involved tremendous efforts by local shop stewards and activists in galvanising members in pursuing a campaign for industrial action where required.

This campaign including lobbying of local political activists, TDs, Senators which resulted in both the matters being subject to Dail debates and a Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health hearing at which we presented the arguments for pay restoration.

Following a successful campaign, our members voted overwhelmingly in favour of industrial action.  The real threat of withdrawal of labour was presented to the Government last February.

All along, the Government maintained the position that they were not part of this process and should not be part of the solution.

It was only through our collective efforts that Government were forced to the negotiating table.

A conciliation process was agreed by the Workplace Relations Commission and in order to avert the impending strike action.  This intervention forced the Government departments and Section 39 employers to engage in the process.

The Workplace Relations Commission recommended that the Government departments conduct an audit review on fifty Section 39 employment identified by the unions.

The purpose of the audit was to ascertain the level of funding cuts, the pay cuts and what pay restoration had taken place if any.

It also forced the Section 39 agencies to engage directly on the funding requirements for the services provided. We understand that the process to complete this audit and the delays in having re-engagements in the Workplace Relations Commission is frustrating.

During this period, we continued to agitate to ensure the dispute remained relevant.

The current position is as follows:

  • The Workplace Relations Commission reconvened all the parties on the 9thJuly 2018 to discuss the audit report and its recommendations.

The Audit recommendations included:

  • Acceptance that Government will have to assist in finding and funding a solution.
  • That Section 39 Agencies will have to present a cost analysis of the increased funding required.
  • The Chairman of the Board will have to sign off on same and will be accountable in the event an audit determines the figures as inaccurate.
  • Verification of the Unions claim for pay restoration and confirming our members had suffered pay cuts through reductions in funding.
  • A process for pay restoration should be implemented where cuts took place.

SIPTU representatives maintain that as the pay restoration commenced in 2017 that this should be reflected in the agreement reached for section 39 members.

At this hearing, SIPTU representatives left the employers’ side in no doubt of their anger and frustration at the delays in furthering this process.

We also insisted that commencement of pay restoration measures have to happen in 2018.  Failure of the Government side to confirm pay restoration in 2018 will lead us with no option but to commence a course of industrial strike action from September.

The Workplace Relations Commission adjourned the hearing to Wednesday 25th July at which time the Government side will have to respond to our demands.

If we do not get a satisfactory response we will be preparing our members to engage in a course of industrial action from September.

We have tried to resolve this matter without the requirement of industrial action, however, we will not be found wanting in ensuring our members’ claims are progressed.

The process to date has been slow and arduous. We acknowledge the frustrations and patience demonstrated by members.

We have placed the Government on notice of our intention to invoke again our threat of industrial strike action if we do not see real progress and a genuine commitment to finding a resolution to this matter.

Our members have shown great determination in pursuing this claim. We will not be found wanting in securing a fair and just process of resolving this dispute.

Young Workers – Join a Union

Young people who face the scourges of low pay and insecure work need to engage with trade unions.

A great place for unions to start is with the 180,000 students studying on third level campuses across the country.

Every year, SIPTU representatives visit third level colleges in conjunction with the Union of Students in Ireland and embark on targeted site visits to student nursing, healthcare and paramedic courses.

SIPTU organisers and activists run campaign stands, sign young people up to the union and gather signatures for petitions demanding the living wage and secure jobs for all workers.

This year, activists handed out a new Young Worker Survival Guides full of information on workers’ rights and trade unions.

In the last few years, an important partnership has been agreed between SIPTU and the Union of Students in Ireland. Under the agreement, all members of USI can access advice and representation from SIPTU through the Workers’ Rights Centre.

Many young people today face insecurity and hardship in terms of their employment and living standards. In addition to the rising cost of education and housing, young workers often experience precarious working arrangements.

Issues such as low pay, short-term contracts, insecure hours – these were some of the injustices that gave rise to the trade union movement many years ago. Young people today need trade union representation, and trade unions need young people to become members.

Yet while thousands of young people have joined SIPTU in recent years, there is still a very large percentage who are not joining unions. While there are many possible reasons for this, one issue is probably that many young people have never come into contact with a trade union before.

Without having a visible union in their workplace, or having a family tradition of union activism many young people think of trade unions as representing “other” groups of workers.

This is reinforced through the media where most coverage of trade union activity focuses on transport disputes, public sector negotiations etc. – crucial matters but ones which might not seem immediately relevant to many workers in non-unionised parts of the private sector.

Many employment sectors are hostile ground for union organisers and so young workers in these sectors may have never considered joining a union. They might not realise that we represent people in their profession or what the benefits are.

It is crucial that the union movement explores new ways of reaching young people, and SIPTU’s current development plan layout many proposals in this regard.

Increased visibility, campaigning and organising on college campuses can be a crucial part of this. During the college visits, we found great support among the students’ union activists for working with SIPTU.

The USI has adopted strong policies on issues such as the living wage and precarious work.

All workers have the right to fair pay and secure jobs. The growth of precarious work must be challenged. Fairness at work and justice in society are ideas that appeal to all generations.

Through organising into trade unions young workers have a powerful tool for securing these rights, and as Ireland’s largest union, SIPTU can lead the way.

SIPTU representatives say any attempt to recalibrate PSSA will be resisted

SIPTU representatives have said that any attempt by the Government to recalibrate the Public Service Stability Agreement (PSSA) will be resisted wholehearted by the membership.

SIPTU Health Divisional Organiser, Paul Bell said: “In recent days, An Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar has said that he believes the PSSA can be recalibrated. Quite simply, this divide and conquer tactic will be resisted wholeheartedly by SIPTU members in the public service. If the Taoiseach believes he can play fast and loose with the PSSA he should consider the consequences.”

He added: “If the Taoiseach wants to dishonour an agreement, for which SIPTU members voted by an overwhelming majority only last year, then he, and his Government, will find themselves in a very precarious place, very quickly.”

SIPTU Public Administration and Community Divisional Organiser, Adrian Kane said: “SIPTU representatives are on the record saying that the additional money now available must be targeted at assisting the lowest paid public servants by eliminating of the two additional entry points to the salary scale. It was always understood that the cost of rectifying this injustice was going to have be addressed by the Government with additional resources, not by raiding the pockets of existing public sector workers.”

01/05/2018 Comments are off SIPTU

Progress made on Roles and Responsibilities for SIPTU Ambulance Professionals

SIPTU Health Division representatives today (Tuesday 1st, May) met with management of the Health Service Executive and National Ambulance Service to progress SIPTU members’ claim to review the “Roles and Responsibilities” of Ambulance Professionals.

SIPTU representatives can confirm that the parties have committed to agreeing on a document outlining the progress made advancing the Ambulance Service through continuous training and development. This document will also give rise to the terms of reference required for such an extremely important process. Our position will be formally put to Health Service Executive and National Ambulance Service management on Friday, 11th May. In the interim, SIPTU Health Division will engage with the Irish Congress of Trade Unions Public Service Committee, which is obligatory under the terms of the Public Service Stability Agreement.”

SIPTU representatives raised the issue of retirement age and officer/non-officer status with management. We can confirm that clarity will be provided on the status of officers and non-officers which is of particular interest to our members. We will circulate this information in due course. The parties have also agreed to reconvene for a specific discussion on the retirement age of ambulance professionals. As our members are aware, this issue is complex and will require external international expertise, which SIPTU will provide.

The next meeting is set for the end of May. Further updates will be issued in due course.