Health staff will take A&E calls
Phones to be answered in critical areas during work-to-rule despite ban
HEALTH workers taking part in next week's work-to-rule campaign have given assurances that telephone calls to hospital A&E departments will be answered, while those to critical services, such as coronary and cancer care, will be screened on an hourly basis.
The Health Services Executive (HSE) met with leaders of trade union IMPACT to discuss next week's industrial action which will involve 30,000 health workers, including secretarial and care staff, from next Tuesday.
The campaign will see a rolling ban on answering calls starting in Dublin and the North East region on Tuesday, before spreading to the West on Wednesday and the South and mid-Leinster later in the week.
The trade union agreed to grant derogations for switchboards and emergency departments.
Meanwhile, members will screen calls related to critical services on an hourly basis and those deemed to be urgent will be returned.
These services include intensive and coronary care, maternity, dialysis, radiotherapy and chemotherapy units and sexual assault treatment units.
The HSE last night warned the public that they may face difficulties in contacting services once the work-to-rule campaign intensifies next week.
Meanwhile, unions representing clerical workers turned the heat up on their campaign against the Government's €1bn pay cut with dozens of local social welfare offices and the country's two passport offices closed for business yesterday afternoon.
Until now, the 13,000 members of the Civil and Public Service Union had largely confined their protest to refusing to answer phones.
However, yesterday staff refused to man public counters at 59 local social welfare offices and at the passport offices in Dublin and Cork.
The protest was also supported by the Public Service Executive Union, which represents 10,000 higher-paid civil servants.
Members of both unions refused to answer telephone calls up to 1pm and from that point withdrew all counter services to members of the public.
While the work-to-rule protest at social welfare offices was not expected to disrupt benefit payments, it meant people who were attempting to sign on for the first time could not do so. Managers said they were given "limited" advance notice of the industrial action.
The Irish National Organisation of the Unemployed said while yesterday's closure was unlikely to have affected as many social welfare recipients compared to a closure earlier in the week, it would have impacted upon those who were claiming benefits for the first time.
"The key days are Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, I'd be surprised if many people were affected by this . . . it may slow down the process of people signing on for the first time," said a spokesperson. "We would be hopeful that, in scaling up their action, they won't affect people who rely on social welfare payments as their sole source of income," she added.
The closure of passport offices led to headaches for customers who were planning to travel over the weekend. As word filtered through that the Dublin and Cork public offices were set to close at 1pm, people rushed to collect their new passports in time.
Those who arrived after the deadline were told they could apply for a temporary passport through the out-of-hours service. But this costs an extra €110 on top of the €80 standard fee.
The Department of Foreign Affairs said in light of the work-to-rule protest, it could no longer give guaranteed processing times for new passports.