Health workers in the community and voluntary sector to commence indefinite strike action

The ICTU group of unions representing health and community workers, employed in community and voluntary sector agencies funded by the HSE and other state agencies, have announced today (Monday) that indefinite strike action, in several selected employments nationwide, is to commence from Tuesday 17th October next.

The union group, led by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU), said the strike action will involve thousands of health and community workers in a variety of grades and in multiple locations, bringing services to a halt.

The decision to strike follows ballots carried out by Fórsa, the INMO and SIPTU. All three unions said ballot returns showed a high level of participation in the ballot, and overwhelming support for industrial action, up to and including strikes.

Workers in the following employments will take indefinite strike action from Tuesday 17th October:
Ardeen Cheshire Ireland
Ability West
Cheshire Ireland
Cheshire Dublin
Cheshire Home Newcastle West
Co-action West Cork
Cobh Hospital
Daughters Of Charity Child and Family Service
DePaul Ireland
Don Bosco Care
Enable Ireland (nationwide, including Cork, Tralee, East Coast and Midwest regions)
Family Resource Centres
Irish Wheelchair Association
Kerry Parents and Friends Association
St. Catherines Association Ltd
St. Josephs Foundation
St. Lukes Nursing Home
Trinity Community Care
Western Care Association

The ballot for industrial action took place following the breakdown of WRC talks in July and follows years of pay disparity between these workers and their counterparts employed directly by the state.

While these agencies are largely state-funded, workers employed in a range of health professional, clinical, clerical and administrative grades, are on lesser terms and conditions than their HSE counterparts. The pay differential is in excess of 10%.

ICTU general secretary Owen Reidy said the strike action is an inevitable consequence of the failure of the Government to address a serious and growing problem with how the agencies are funded, and a recruitment and retention crisis in vital services: “Workers in the sector now have chosen to take action because the State, as the chief funding body for these services, has failed to grasp the seriousness of the staffing crisis in this sector,” he said.

SIPTU Health division official Kevin Figgis said: “The decision to strike clearly demonstrates the level of frustration our members feel at the dysfunctional way in which parts of the community healthcare system is funded.

“Our members involved in this dispute provide essential health services on behalf of the State. Should voluntary providers continue to have recruitment and retention issues, and are no longer able to provide these services, there will be an obligation on the HSE to step in and provide them directly.

“These services will need to be appropriately funded. Pay parity with the public service is necessary to ensure the provision of vital public services to vulnerable people in our communities. It’s an acknowledged fact that the current funding model is unsustainable and will need to be resolved to secure the future of these services,” he said.

Fórsa Health and Welfare official Ashley Connolly said: “This is the action of last resort, and it has been a difficult decision for these workers, but they’ve been left with no more options.

“The Government has been dragging its feet on the issue for years, while making conciliatory noises to health workers who urgently need pay improvements. Their colleagues are walking out the door for better terms elsewhere, and waiting lists for the services these agencies offer continue to grow as a result.

“There’s a yawning pay gap of more than 10%. Services cannot be sustained as long as that continues,“ she said.

INMO official Albert Murphy said: “Nurses in the community and voluntary sector provide essential services to some of the most vulnerable people in society. They have not been afforded the same level of pay increases as their colleagues in the HSE, which is exacerbating a recruitment and retention crisis in the sector.

“Nurses in the sector are now facing into another winter with rising household costs, yet their salaries remain stagnant.

“The Government cannot continue to bury its head in the sand over the very real issues at the heart of this dispute. It’s hard for our members to take that while the exchequer has enjoyed record returns, and the state continues to deny vital pay improvements to thousands of workers in this vital health sector.”

SIPTU Public Administration and Community division official Karan O’Loughlin added: “Our members have opted to take action as the wage cuts, unilaterally imposed more than a decade ago, have been reversed all over the economy while our members have been left behind. It’s unacceptable.

“Government inaction and delay has only served to put these vital community services at risk and leave our members to feel as though they have no option to withdraw their labour,” she said.

Bus Éireann strike: What you need to know

SIPTU members in Bus Éireann began an indefinite all out-strike action and placed pickets on bus stations across the country on Friday 24th March at 12.01 a.m.

Today (Sunday, 26th March) is our members third day of action and they need your support.

They will maintain their strike action until management agrees to engage in serious talks concerning the public transport system.

The workers are deeply concerned about the inconvenience being endured by the travelling public and other SIPTU members due to the strike action but they believe they have no other option.

What SIPTU members in Bus Éireann want:

1) Fair pay and working conditions

Bus Éireann is a company with a history of paying workers enough money to support their families. This is a good thing.

Management is demanding that the company competes with private bus operators to provide services on routes. Many of the employees of these private bus companies depend on state welfare payments to survive.

Our members are more than willing to compete with private companies in terms of the standard and level of service provided. However, they will not get involved in a ‘race to the bottom’ in terms of pay and conditions of employment.

The solution — A Sectoral Employment Order (SEO) for bus workers. Such an order under the Industrial Relations (Amendment) Act 2015 would protect bus drivers’ terms and conditions of employment in both the public and private sectors. It would mean that any competition between Bus Éireann and private operators would be based on the quality and efficiency of the service provided and not on driving down workers’ pay and conditions.

2) To provide a good public service

Bus Éireann has provided an effective bus service connecting communities throughout rural Ireland and between all urban centres for over 60 years.
It is mandated by the National Transport Agency to provide services on Public Service Obligation (PSO) routes — these are routes that are not profitable commercially but are socially important as they connect rural communities together.

The Government is believed to be intent on allowing such private operators to tender for all PSO routes in 2019 and if they are successful they will receive state funding to provide the services.

Bus Éireann provides transport to hundreds of thousands of Travel Pass Scheme participants free of charge on a daily basis. This is a crucial service for vulnerable groups and the elderly in our society.

The solution: State funding (known as a subvention) for Bus Éireann was cut by 35% between 2009 and 2015 (from €50 million to €33.7 million). This funding must be increased so that Bus Éireann can continue to provide essential public transport services.

3) Talks about agreed change at the company

The current strike action is in response to a management attempt to force through changes to workers’ terms and conditions of employment without any agreement from Bus Éireann workers.

The changes, which management stated it intended to immediately implement in a letter to workers on 22nd March, would have resulted in a loss of earnings of up 30% for many Bus Éireann workers.
If management had been allowed to force through such massive cuts it would have set a precedence for similar imposed changes in other semi-state companies.

The solution: An immediate return to meaningful and genuine talks. SIPTU representatives want to engage in meaningful negotiations concerning far-reaching change and improvements in the public bus network. In order for these talks to be effective there must be direct input from the National Transport Authority and the Department of Transport as well as management and workers’ representatives. The best place for these talks to take place is either at the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) or another body capable of overseeing an agreement on a just and fair solution to this dispute.

SIPTU members in Bus Éireann want a solution to the current dispute and to return to work as soon as possible.

SIPTU serves notice of protective strike action on Dublin hospitals

SIPTU has served notice of protective strike action, today (Friday, 31st October), on Dublin’s six main training hospitals in a dispute over rosters and pay.

SIPTU Health Division Organiser, Paul Bell, said: “Following the unilateral decision by the hospital managements to attempt to change working patterns for porters, catering operatives, laboratory assistants and CSSD Technicians, SIPTU has been left with no alternative but to serve notice of protective strike action”.

The hospitals involved are St Vincent’s University, Beaumont, the Mater, Tallaght and St Luke’s and the National Maternity Hospital at Holles Street.

He added: “These hospitals have been advised by letter that our members will engage in strike action should management unilaterally introduce change to our members rosters and established shift patterns, which management have agreed with workers, will be retained”.

Paul Bell has previously informed the HSE and the management of the six hospitals that the Croke Park and Haddington Road agreements contain provisions which protect the earnings of low paid workers in the health service who have already suffered major reductions in pay.