A strike by medical scientists has been suspended after they accepted an invitation to attend the Labour Court for exploratory talks on the dispute.
The Labour Court intervened in the dispute on Tuesday, inviting both parties to engage in a process which will commence on Wednesday.
The Medical Laboratory Scientists Association (MLSA), the HSE and the Department of Health have accepted the invitation.
The MLSA has issued a notice to its 2,100 members to suspend further industrial action planned for Wednesday, and to resume work as normal on Wednesday morning across all hospital laboratories.
MLSA general secretary Terry Casey said the union will enter the Labour Court process in “good faith and with commitment” to resolving the severe recruitment and retention issues in the laboratory sector.
Up to 30,000 medical procedures and appointments were cancelled as medical scientists withdrew routine laboratory services in protest over pay and conditions, and had planned to continue their protest on Wednesday.
Tuesday’s strike affected routine hospital and GP services, including analysis of blood and urine samples, scans and other tests, across the country.
Earlier, Taoiseach Micheal Martin said the dispute should be resolved through the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) or within the Labour Court.
“In our view, and in my view, optimal use must be made of the industrial relations machinery of the state,” he told the Dail on Tuesday. “Be it the WRC or the Labour Court in respect of getting this issue resolved.
“There would have been significant informal contact over the weekend and the issue is about getting all sides into the process, into either the WRC or the Labour Court, to get this resolved, within broad industrial relations frameworks, because at the end of the day, government wants a resolution of this.”
Pearse Doherty, Sinn Fein’s spokesman on finance, said the strike had caused “significant widespread disruption”, adding: “Medical scientists are on strike today because of a basic lack of respect and recognition of the crucial role that they play and delivery of our health services.
“They are among the unsung heroes of this pandemic. Medical scientists essentially designed our Covid-19 testing system from scratch.
“Since the first strike action last Wednesday, the Medical Laboratory Scientists Association say that neither the Department of Health nor the HSE has come to them with a meaningful proposal, nor an invitation to talk that could resolve the issues.”
Social Democrats co-leader Catherine Murphy said the strike was “completely disabling” the health service and showed the importance of the profession.
“It is having serious consequences on patients right across the country,” Ms Murphy added.
“Patient safety has clearly been put at risk, huge negative impact on patients, some of whom have been on waiting lists for many years and seeing long-awaited procedures being cancelled.
“The strike will cause further chaos with delayed diagnosis, delayed treatment, avoidable patient pain and suffering and expanding waiting lists.
“We already have a problem there. Taoiseach, medical scientists are the hidden heroes of the health service and people that patients never got to meet.”
Andrea Byrne Fitzpatrick, an MLSA representative at Naas General Hospital, said the staff are a vital part of the health service.
She told the PA news agency that medical scientists are paid about 8% less than colleagues in hospital laboratories and are calling for equal pay for equal work.
Ms Byrne Fitzpatrick said around 20% of roles are currently unfilled and that has led to “total burnout”.
“Our work is far-reaching – not only do we deal with the hospitals internally, but we do thousands of GP samples,” she added.
“We do hospice bloods and we do nursing homes and we do all types of specimens.
“We’re the last people who want to be stepping up our action at the moment. We’ve always been dedicated to our career.
“We work 24/7, 365 days of the year, and the last thing we want to do is hurt our patients. But we’re having severe problems within the sector.
“There’s total burnout from our scientists, and we’re being ignored by the HSE and Department of Health.
“We’re continuing the picket line to resolve unfulfilled posts. The main thing we’re looking for is pay parity with our colleagues who do exactly the same job as us, and we work side by side with these guys and we have a medical qualification on top of that.
“We’re looking for a career pathway to be structured the same as our colleagues and give us more opportunity. There’s an increase in demand on our service all the time and young people are not encouraged to come into our profession because they can see the lack of service within it.
“We have fewer career opportunities compared to other colleagues, we’ve less training support, and we have less continuous education support than our colleagues.
“Some 20% of our posts are unfilled and people are not encouraged to come in when they see the hours that we do and we’re working beside these colleagues getting paid more than us.”