Health service chaos looms as union extends work-to-rule
HEALTH services will be seriously disrupted for the first time from next week as the country's biggest public sector union ramps up its work-to-rule protest over pay cuts.
IMPACT has instructed 30,000 health service workers to stop answering phones in a protest that will rotate from one HSE area to another.
And in a separate development it is proposing an escalation by putting forward plans for rolling work stoppages across the public sector at an ICTU meeting on March 8.
Next week's refusal to answer phones will be conducted by region, initially for half-day periods, on a rotating basis.
The scaling up of the work-to-rule will extend to entire HSE areas, including voluntary hospitals with those areas.
"In general, less than 24 hours notice will be given," according to instructions sent to union officials and seen by the Irish Independent.
Union sources insisted last night that provision would be made for emergencies.
The union represents about 15,000 secretarial and administrative staff as well as the same number of care staff.
In addition, from March 1 the existing refusal to deal with all political representations including Dail questions and Freedom of Information requests will be extended to all TDs and senators -- at present only government parties are affected by this action.
If the proposed rolling work stoppage plans are agreed with the other unions, it would cause massive problems across the public sector.
In the Dail yesterday, Taoiseach Brian Cowen admitted that industrial action by public sector unions was affecting the work of TDs and ministers. He said that the Government was always available to engage with its own employees and their representatives.
"However, I know that simply inviting unions in for talks without the right context or agreed agenda will not work," he said.
In a letter sent to members, IMPACT general secretary Peter McLoone says that his union "will support proposals for rolling work stoppages of limited duration across all sectors of the civil and public service. This would likely involve a programme of short stoppages at different times in different workplaces on a regional basis".
The disclosure of the stoppage proposals comes a day after SIPTU president Jack O'Connor told a Galway rally that public sector workers needed to lay out a determined programme of action right into the summer. Otherwise they would end up drifting into another budgetary assault, he said.
It also comes two days after second-level teacher unions announced they were escalating their work-to-rule from March 8, when they will refuse to take on any duties carried out by retiring assistant principals or special duties teachers.
The proposed stoppages could cause problems for teacher unions as they could mean leaving pupils unsupervised for part of the school day.
Mr McLoone made it clear that even if talks resumed, the current action would not be suspended. The union wants the restoration of pay, pension protection, abolition of the pension levy, an agreed approach to outsourcing and the implementation of pay increases under the Towards 2016 agreement.