01/05/2018 Comments are off SIPTU
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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.

30/04/2018 Comments are off SIPTU
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SIPTU representatives demand an immediate halt to the privatisation of critical health services

SIPTU representatives have today (Monday, 30th April) demanded an immediate halt to the privatisation of critical health services and called on the Government to ensure that the outsourcing clause of the Public Service Stability Agreement (PSSA) is honoured to the letter.

SIPTU Health Division Organiser, Paul Bell, said: “The unfolding tragedy of the CervicalCheck scandal shines a bright light on the real human cost of outsourcing. Shareholders and profits are being prioritised over patients and lives. There seems to be no control or accountability until it’s too late. It’s unacceptable.”

“SIPTU representatives have always opposed outsourcing, not just because it is in breach of public service agreements and removes decent directly employed workers from the health service but also because of the concerns of our members surrounding the governance and oversight offered to the service user.”

“Many members of the public would be unaware and quite possibly horrified that their medical records are being analysed thousands of miles away on an industrial scale for profit. These services must be provided by the State and not offshored.”

Bell added: “The restoration of public confidence in our national cervical cancer screening programme is vital but there are also lessons to be learned across the public service. Right now, our members in the Mater Misericordiae University Hospital are preparing for strike action in protest at management proposals to outsource the Central Sterile Services Department (CSSD).

“There is a familiar ring to the arguments being put forward now, albeit belatedly, by the Government. The same arguments are being made by our members in the Mater. That outsourcing serves the interests of profits not patients. Our members also believe that the proposal flies in the face of the terms of the PSSA by not using direct labour to the greatest possible extent to deliver public services.”

Join the fight against precarious work

For all those seeking to better understand the main battle for the Irish trade union movement in the coming years, the recently published report ‘Living with uncertainty: the social implications of precarious work’ is essential reading.

The report produced jointly by the trade union-backed think-tank TASC and the Foundation for European Progressive Studies, examines the current rise in precarious forms of work and how they adversely impact on individuals and Irish society.

One of its stark conclusions is that for many, work no longer represents a reliable route out of poverty.

In the report, precarious work is identified as low paid work which is either part-time with variable hours, so-called “if-and-when” contracts, temporary, and solo self-employment (also known as “bogus self-employment”), or a combination of these employment situations.

It found such forms of employment to be widespread in healthcare, education, archaeology, transport and storage, the postal sector, the arts, media and construction, as well as in retail, catering, hairdressing, hotel work, bar work and contract work, such as cleaning and security.

Participants interviewed for the study, which included several SIPTU members fighting for improvements in the pay and conditions of low paid, contract workers, said the unpredictability of precarious work affected them physically and mentally, often making them ill.

Many, however, “could not afford” to be ill, as taking time off meant not being paid.

Many were also victims of the interplay between precarious work and that other great threat to the quality of life of workers in Ireland, the worsening housing emergency.

Precarious workers often have no choice but to rent or to live in the family home. Those working in non-standard employment are unlikely to be approved for a mortgage while renting in the private market has become prohibitively expensive.

 

This can lead to a lack of independence, with adults unable to leave the family home or lead independent lives and can have severe adverse effects on children.

From this malign influence on family life, it is clear that precarious work presents an intergenerational challenge, which if not tackled effectively will deepen inequality and drive communities further apart along economic lines.

The report does not shy away from highlighting the strong ideological dimension to the rise in precarity. In many cases, the introduction of precarious work was spun as being about businesses having to make ‘hard choices’ during the recession with an increase in ‘flexibility’ by workers key to a wider economic recovery.

Factually, this was just not the case. The report states clearly that some of the industries with the highest profits during the recession were the most relentless in the roll-out of insecure contracts. The spread of such employment practices was also driven by political pressure.

The aim was often to drive down unemployment figures rather than a focus on the quality of the employment being created in both economic and social terms.

As with the great battles against casual work practices and horrific conditions that were won in the early decades of the last century in Ireland and across much of Europe and North America, unions will be at the forefront of the war on precarity.

The TASC report presents further evidence that precarious working conditions thrive in sectors where there is a lack of worker organisation and were dreamt up by political conservatives as a way of undermining unions in areas where they were strong.

It took many years, and the production of much false, ideologically driven research concerning the supposed economic and social benefits of ‘flexible’ working conditions, as well as the opportune use of economic crises, to drive the precarious work agenda to where it is now.

It will similarly take much hard work at the industrial, political, community and district council level by trade unions to drive back the wave of human misery caused by low paid, insecure and often unsafe work.

For SIPTU members the battle against precarious work is an urgent priority

26/04/2018 Comments are off SIPTU
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SIPTU seeks equitable solution to pay inequality for new entrants to the public service 

SIPTU representatives will meet with Government officials, tomorrow (Friday, 27th April), to discuss the ending of the two-tier pay structure in the public service as part of a process established under the terms of the Public Service Stability Agreement (PSSA).

The arrangement imposed on new entrants since 2011 has resulted in nearly 60,000 public service employees, working in the health, education, local authorities and other sectors, doing the same job for less pay than their colleagues.

SIPTU Health Division Organiser, Paul Bell, said: “Our members don’t expect a big bang solution to this issue. However, they do expect the presentation of concrete proposals that outline a clear road map towards the ending this pay injustice.

“We will continue to work with all parties to make sure a fair and equitable balance is struck, that leaves no worker in the public service behind, while also ensuring that the lowest paid are given priority.”

He added: “SIPTU members have consistently argued that it was unfair of the Government to cut the entry grade of pay for workers joining the public service since 2011. We now have an opportunity to resolve this injustice through dialogue within the terms of the PSSA.

“SIPTU representatives have made it clear we will not be party to any successor to the PSSA unless the two lower entry points for new recruits are abolished.”

Striking against war in the trenches

In 1915 James Connolly wrote that a general strike would have prevented the bloodbath that was then enveloping Europe: “As workers, they were indeed in control of the forces of production and distribution, and by exercising that control over the transport service could have made the war impossible.”

This did not happen in Ireland or anywhere else in Connolly’s lifetime. More than 200,000 Irishmen served in British forces during the war. In part as a protest, Connolly threw in his lot with the Republican insurgents of 1916 and was executed as a result.

But just two years later, Irish workers did with a general strike halt an attempt by the British government to extend conscription to Ireland in its tracks.

The general strike of 1918 became possible due to the rapid wartime growth of the ITGWU, from just 5,000 members after the Lockout of 1913 to more than 60,000 by 1918 as workers, both urban and rural, tried to bring wages up to the level of rising wartime food prices and inflation.

What was more, by this time Ireland was also in political turmoil. British rule had been fatally compromised by the repression unleashed by the rebellion, but even more so by the threat to impose conscription on to Ireland in the spring of 1918 following the German offensive of that year. By 1918, there was little appetite for more war in Ireland and virtually none for conscription.

All the nationalist parties campaigned against it, including Sinn Fein and the Irish Parliamentary Party, which withdrew from Westminster in protest. The Irish Volunteers, hugely increased in numbers but largely disarmed since the Rising, prepared to resist it.

But it was the action of the trade unions which did most to defeat conscription. The Irish Trade Union Congress called a one-day general strike against the imposition of conscription and brought the country to a standstill on 23rd April 1918 – the largest strike to date in Irish history.

Everywhere outside of unionist dominated Belfast, the country lurched to a halt; transport, even the munitions factories set up for the war ceased work for the day. Cumann na mBan, the Republican women’s movement also called a day of protest, lá na mban (‘the Striking against war in the trenches day of women’) in which they urged women not to take the jobs of men conscripted for the army.

Not long afterwards the British government let the Conscription Act lapse. The general strike had demonstrated that more troops would be needed to implement conscription in Ireland than would be gained from the draft. Irish labour had struck a decisive blow against the war and for Irish independence

Combatting precarious work

The term “precarious workers” refers to low paid, part-time employees who work irregular or variable hours, or those on full-time, short-term contracts. Many people in these situations are paid only for the hours they actually work and therefore their income is insecure.

From a workers’ point of the view, a simple definition of precarious work is employment which is perceived to be “insecure, uncertain or unpredictable”.

Being forced into such an employment situation means these workers are unable to secure loans or mortgages or to make financial plans. Precarious employment is also linked to negative physical and mental health, as well as offering little opportunity for career progression.

Precarious work is not a new concept. In its current guise, it is linked to the spread of neoliberal economics and the emphasis placed on a ‘flexible’ workforce. With the onset of the global financial crisis, its increase has become a key concern for workers in nearly all sectors of the economy.

SIPTU Health Division Organiser, Paul Bell, said: “It may be a strong charge but I believe precarious work is not unlike a legalised version of modern day slavery. In many cases, bosses demand that employees immediately respond to a call to present for work. Should they fail to do so, the contract of employment can be terminated. Many workers on precarious contracts are also forbidden to work for other companies. It is interesting that this practice is accepted by employer organisations, many of whom rest on their defence for precarious work on the legitimacy of flexibility.

Surely labour market competition and restriction of trade must be a consideration for employers and these representative organisations.”

Worker insecurity: Sector by sector

Precarious work practices have spread throughout the economy. These are just some of the sectors affected where SIPTU members are organising to confront them.

Home care sector

The sector has three types of provider – public, voluntary and private. The first two are fully funded through the HSE. The average rate of pay for a public sector Home Help is €15 per hour; the voluntary sector rate is €11.50– €12.50 per hour, and in the private sector, the rate of pay averages approximately €10.50 per hour. In the private Home Care Sector, “if-and-when” contracts are the norm, meaning not only do workers lack guaranteed hours but they also don’t know from week to week what hours they will be working.

The lack of security extends to complaints made against them by a client; if a client makes an allegation against a carer they are instantly let go. Precarious home care workers in the private sector receive statutory maternity leave, but it is unpaid. While they are entitled to take holidays, it has to suit the employer. There is also a large amount of unpaid work in the private sector in the form of travelling time from one client to the other. Staff turnover is high in the private sector.

Childcare sector

There are 23,000 workers in this sector, who are predominantly female and whose average rate of pay is €10.27 per hour. They have no pension scheme, very few workplaces have paid maternity leave, and they receive the statutory minimum of 20 days’ holidays. Early Years educators get paid for the hours of contact time they have with a child per day. However, this does not take into account the extensive work that is done outside of those hours such as observation reports, preparatory work and administration.

The precarious nature of work in the sector results in an annual staff turnover rate of approximately 26%. This is a consequence of the limited scope for career progression, including pay increments for Early Years Educators. A high turnover in the sector has further implications for the quality of childcare services in Ireland because the highly educated and professional staff cannot be retained.

Third-level education sector

There have always been workers employed in a precarious manner in this sector doing occasional lecturing and tutoring. However, it is estimated that there are now at least as many people on precarious contracts as permanent contracts. Lecturers and tutors hired on a part-time hourly basis are paid for the hours they teach. This payment is said to be inclusive of preparatory work. However, they are not being paid for follow-up or administrative responsibilities. Many others are retained on short-term contracts. The implications this has for academics are wider than simply the direct impact on their lives.

It also creates an atmosphere of self-censorship, meaning they are less likely to partake in vigorous, academic debate.  Many are also constantly anxious about reaching the end of their contract and having to put much of their energies into applying for new employment rather than focusing on publishing or doing research.

Financial sector

The financial sector has also seen an increase in temporary contracts and outsourcing. In the credit unions, new entrants are being brought in on one-year, fixed-term contracts. This has followed changes relating to mergers and amalgamations, resulting in management claiming it may not be in a position to say what kind of staff needs they will have in the future. For “permanent” staff in this sector, there is also a growing trend towards ‘performance management’ which means that over a two-year period a contract can be terminated on the grounds of capability. Therefore, while permanent workers may not be contractually precarious, they do feel precarious, and this is an example of a sector where the issues facing contractually precarious workers are seeping into the working conditions of permanent workers.

Restaurant sector

Most people working in restaurants are employed on a casual basis, with part-time contracts and irregular hours of work. Workers often only find out from week to week what their hours will be. People employed in the restaurant sector often work long hours on a flat rate. Workers often report unpaid work such as doing overtime, where management will attempt not to pay them for the extra hours they worked.

Furthermore, when they are paid for overtime, it is on a flat rate, regardless of whether they worked day or night. It is difficult for workers to challenge management in these circumstances because they can be punished by not being put on the roster or having their hours decreased. Another issue is workers being asked to work unpaid for a “training period” before they are officially employed.

Agricultural production sector

During the economic “boom”, employers and agencies in industries such as meat production and vegetable processing specifically targeted certain countries to bring in migrant workers on minimum wage, with no security of employment or entitlements. Typically, contracts in the meat or vegetable processing industries would be on an “if-and-when” basis and would involve something along the lines of “up to 48 hours”. In many cases, people do not have a written contract. It is also common for workers to live together in crowded accommodation and pay rent to their employer.

When it comes to fruit and vegetable picking, workers can also be paid on a productivity measurement system, for example being paid for the total weight of the product they pick. There is a high turnover of people, and the precarious nature of the work leaves people feeling too vulnerable and frightened to act collectively to improve their working conditions.

The construction sector

Since the financial crisis, the construction industry is organised differently to how it was previously when large construction employers had high levels of direct employment. Now, the predominant form of employment for technical operative grades is through agencies that employ them on an if-and-when basis. Among the trades, bogus self-employment features highly. It is also rare for agency workers to be offered a mandatory pension scheme to which the employer contributes.

Often construction workers have disputes with the agencies over holiday pay that is outstanding to them. Bogus self-employment in the craft trades is forced on the workers; they are told that if they want the job, they must register as self-employed, or else the job will go to someone else. By forcing a self-employment status on trades’ people, this leaves them bereft of any protection in employment law.

Hotel sector

A generation ago, a hotel was considered a good place to work because there was career progression. Now it is very rare to find contracts in the sector with fulltime or even part-time guaranteed hours. This was triggered over 10 years ago when employers began to hire people with neither qualifications nor experience to work in the sector.

This culminated in the de-skilling of the workforce, and consequently, employers could justify diminishing the contract terms and conditions for new entrants on this basis.

The biggest problem for a lot of workers in the hotel sector is rostering. They can be rostered in for certain hours and on certain days, only to find out on their arrival to work that they are not needed. Workers in the hotel sector are also being pushed to do more work in less time, with housekeeping staff, in particular, suffering from so-called ‘speed up’, resulting in increased incidents of injury.

14/04/2018 Comments are off SIPTU
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SIPTU tells HSE to complete Section 39 audit or strike notice will be reactivated

SIPTU representatives have today (Friday, 13th April) informed the management of the HSE that if it has not completed an audit of Section 39 organisations by May Day (Tuesday, 1st May) union members will reactivate a notice for strike action.

The move follows a meeting, chaired by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, where representatives agreed to an HSE request to allow their officials two additional weeks to complete the audit of Section 39 organisations.

SIPTU Health Division Organiser, Paul Bell, said: “Having received a partial audit of Section 39 organisations, which had been due to be completed by 31st March, we have taken the decision to accede to a request by the HSE to extend the time agreed to complete this critical work.

“We have also alerted the Workplace Relations Commission, the HSE and the Department of Health that we are insisting that all the parties to the dispute re-engage on May Day.”

He added: “We have informed the employer that if this vital audit is not completed, to our members’ complete satisfaction, by May Day, it will face the reactivation of their notice for strike action.”

 

06/04/2018 Comments are off SIPTU
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SIPTU rejects attempt to extend National Ambulance Service members retirement age

SIPTU members working in the National Ambulance Service have today (Friday, 6th April) stated that they will reject an attempt by the Government to extend their legal retirement age beyond 65 unless a proper evaluation of the full impact of such a measure is undertaken.

SIPTU Health Division Organiser, Paul Bell said: “Our members are determined to engage with Government on their intention to extend the legal retirement age for public servants from 65 to 70 years of age. Members of the public may not be aware that the normal retirement age of ambulance professionals employed by the Health Service Executive is 65 unlike members of the Fire Service, Defence Forces or An Garda Síochána. This is unacceptable and we will be campaigning for parity of esteem with other frontline emergency workers.”

He added: “The job of an ambulance professional is both stressful and physical by its nature. The occupation requires shift work, long hours and this contributes to a degree of burnout. It is also necessary to understand that ambulance professionals require continual academic training and education which bring their own pressures.”

“Our demands are simple. We want an independent study on the physical ability of ambulance professionals to perform the full range of life-saving duties at more than 65 years of age. It must also include an analysis of international best practice, as well as comparing the role with the Fire Service, Defence Forces, Prison Officers and An Garda Síochána all of which are exposed to similar working environments.”

02/04/2018 Comments are off SIPTU
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SIPTU demands Government reverses pay cuts for public servants over the age of 65

SIPTU representatives have today (Monday, 2nd April) demanded that the Government reverses pay cuts imposed on public servants who remain in their jobs after the age of 65.

The call comes after Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Pascal Donohoe, confirmed that public servants who opt to stay in employment beyond the age of 65 face an automatic reduction in pay until legislative change is introduced.

SIPTU Health Division Organiser, Paul Bell said: “We are in the intolerable situation of having swathes of health workers, many of whom have given their whole working lives to the public service, facing the indignity of being ‘rehired’ for their own jobs on substantially less pay.

“It is a mean-spirited and ill-thought out approach. The fact that nurses and midwives are exempt from this treatment indicates the stark inequality of the current system. Our members believe the approach taken with nurses and midwives can and should be used for all health workers.

The decision by the Government to slash the pay of loyal public sector workers impacts disproportionately on women. A large number of women workers in the public service do not have an entitlement to full pension benefit as they may have joined the service later in life or had no option but to take temporarily leave for several years due to care commitments. Due to this situation, many women workers have no option but to remain in work.

He added: “SIPTU Health Division representatives have made a claim to end the current unjust approach to public servants who decide to work beyond 65 years of age. We are due to meet with Health Service Executive representatives on Thursday (5th April) for talks on this issue.

“If no substantial progress is made in these face to face talks, SIPTU representatives will refer the issue to the Labour Court within the next ten days.”

 

Grasping these basic home truths

Having a roof over your head is the most basic of fundamental human rights and every human being, adult and child, deserves to live in a safe and secure home.

Many people are now coming to realise that the line that separates people from having a home and not having a home is becoming ever thinner.

The reasons for homelessness are many and complex and we can see the most desperate of situations before us every day with increasing number of rough sleepers caught at the coalface of the housing crisis.

There are now almost 10,000 people registered as homeless in Ireland. That figure is made up of over 1,500 families (increasing at the rate of up to 100 families per month) and including more than 3,200 children who have no home to go to.

Despite the ambitions and promises in the Government housing plan Rebuilding Ireland, these numbers are growing month on month. The figures count the number of people depending on state-funded emergency accommodation and do not include the many thousands of others living in housing distress or in overcrowded and unsuitable conditions.

The housing crisis now affects people from all walks of life. Good housing means good health. It’s a no-brainer.

There are 800,000 people currently living in private rented accommodation. Some of these rely on housing assistance payments (HAPs). However, there are many renting in the private sector who cannot afford to buy their own home. This is because they either cannot get a mortgage or cannot afford to buy on their income.

Rents across the country continue to rise at unsustainable rates. Despite the introduction of ‘rent pressure zones’, intended to cap rent increases at 4%, rents continue to rise. People who can’t pay are being forced out of their homes into homelessness as their rents continue to rise beyond affordability.

People who are having their homes repossessed because they had to pay inflated mortgage prices for their homes or because they lost their jobs during the recession are also being forced into homelessness.

Young people cannot move out of the family home to start their life and whole sections of society are now in the position where they will never be able to afford to buy a home of their own. It is a basic home truth that ensuring homes for all is a fundamental human rights’ and social justice issue.

What is becoming an all too common feature is the lack of local authority home inspectors. There’s plenty of evidence across the country that the Housing Assistance Payment is being used to pay for substandard accommodation. When tenants complain and secure an inspection an improvement notice on basic safety issues like gas, heating and electricity standards usually follows and subsequently results in eviction under the guise of the landlord selling the property. This is unacceptable.

Doing the right thing, in a time of crisis requires flexibility and courage.

This national emergency requires all parties, including Government agencies, NGO’s, the Trade Union movement, the Construction Industry Federation, the Credit Union movement, local Government and the political establishment to work together and for no contributor or suggestion to be excluded.

The solution to the crisis was a feature in Ireland in the 1960s and 1970s with the construction of affordable housing facilitated through local authority loans and in parallel the construction of social homes.

There has never been as much wealth in the hands of so few in our nation.

Every day this year private landlords will be given €2 million of taxpayers’ money to deliver social housing. This is a flawed and failing ideology. It’s time for a change in direction.

That is why the National Homelessness and Housing Coalition is growing in numbers and support every day. This is the largest grouping of organisations to ever come together to join forces to demand serious political action on the housing crisis.

The demands of the Coalition are clear and simple and centred around a move away from the privatisation of housing, away from the notion that a house is a commodity to be traded for profit but a home to fulfil a basic need and a human right. The Coalition focuses on the provision of public housing, security of tenure, the prevention of evictions to nowhere and other long-term solutions.

It is only through a radical change in housing policy that meaningful and sustainable solutions to the housing crisis can be found. And it is only through joining forces around the housing crisis that we can achieve the necessary change.