Tuesday 23 July 2019

Trade union will go back to WRC as 10,000 hospital workers continue pay strike

Siptu confirmed on Wednesday that it has accepted an invitation to attend talks with the WRC.

Health support workers Mag Dowling (left) Margaret Doherty (centre) and Naveen Sharma, on strike outside St James’s hospital in Dublin (Brian Lawless/PA)
Health support workers Mag Dowling (left) Margaret Doherty (centre) and Naveen Sharma, on strike outside St James’s hospital in Dublin (Brian Lawless/PA)

By Aoife Moore and Cate McCurry, Press Association Ireland

Trade union Siptu has said that talks will take place at the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) on Thursday in a bid to resolve the dispute over hospital support staff pay.

It comes as 10,000 hospital workers continue their strike action, which is causing disruption at health facilities across the country.

The industrial action – which includes catering staff, porters, cleaners and technicians – is affecting patient and client services across 38 hospitals and healthcare facilities.

The 24-hour stoppage began at 8am on Wednesday.

The dispute emerged between workers and the HSE over what Siptu claims is a failure to implement increases in pay for workers after a job evaluation scheme deemed the staff were underpaid.

The initial response from the Government was that the increase would be paid in 2021 when all the stages of the evaluation are complete.

Siptu confirmed on Wednesday that it has accepted an invitation to attend talks with the WRC.

Siptu health division organiser Paul Bell, said: “The planned three days of strike action due to take place next week will proceed if we do not resolve this dispute.

“We are greatly encouraged by the huge turnout of members on picket lines at 38 hospitals across the country today.

“We also appreciate the support of the public, including patients and visitors to the hospitals, and of our colleagues in the health service.”

The Taoiseach said the Government had agreed to phase-in the pay increases from November 2019 “out of good will”, in an effort to resolve the dispute, which was not accepted by the union.

Mr Bell said the union would prefer a negotiated settlement that does not impact on patient services.

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(Brian Lawless/PA)

“Siptu members have acted in good faith at all times during this dispute, including by deferring two days of strike action,” he added.

“We believe that the Government has abused the conciliation process and never meaningfully engaged with Siptu representatives.

“Some 16.2 million euro is owed to our members yet the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform has only offered 1.2 million euro to resolve this dispute.

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The industrial action is affecting patient and client services across 38 hospitals and healthcare facilities (Brian Lawless/PA)

“Furthermore, the department has attempted to frustrate this process by seeking to unilaterally change a crucial element of the job evaluation scheme which centres on the assimilation of pay to new grades as awarded under this independent process.

“Our members (will) continue to pursue their legitimate claim for recognition, respect and pay justice.”

Healthcare assistant Joe Mansfield took to the picket line with dozens of his colleagues outside Connolly Hospital in Blanchardstown.

He has been working at the hospital for 18 years.

“Unfortunately we have to to strike today because the Government hasn’t given us the recognition we deserve,” he said.

“They have to realise that healthcare assistants and all the support staff are taking on more roles and responsibilities without any choice.

“This strike means we are down a day’s pay and with more planned for next week it means we will be down more pay and that’s frightening.

“We are only ordinary Joe’s so every penny counts.

“I feed, wash, dress and assist patients as well as assisting nurses throughout the day. We don’t get the recognition we deserve from management or the HSE or from some TDs in Fine Gael.

“It’s a fight we are prepared to do but we don’t want to do.

“From ground workers, to catering, to porters, we are the ones that keep the show on the road.”

His colleague, Pat Farrell said he feels like support workers are at the “bottom of the pile”.

Mr Farrell, who has been a driver at Connolly Hospital for the last 15 years, said he has been taking on more duties since 2011.

“We all took on the extra work but have not got the pay for it,” he explained.

“They have paid other grades in the hospital, but we feel like we are at the bottom of the pile and no one cares about us.

“The staff are doing more but we are not getting the pay for it.”

The HSE said it is continuing to engage on contingency planning with Siptu at local hospital and healthcare facility level.

A spokeswoman said: “Feedback from our services this morning would suggest that the situation in all sites is challenging because of the range of essential services affected.

“However, all sites are continuing to engage locally with Siptu on contingency plans to ensure safe service provision and patient dignity, care and comfort.

“As well as facing challenges in maintaining essential daily care for our inpatients such as nutrition, hydration, transfer of patients, cleaning and infection control, emerging data would also suggest that there has been a significant number of appointment and procedure cancellations including surgical procedures, scope procedures, and outpatient appointments.”

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