Sunday 21 July 2019

Hospital support staff strike: the reasons, who is affected, and political reaction as 10,000 protest

Everything you need to know about the hospital support staff strike

Health support staff Stacey Moody from Tallaght during strike action at St James's Hosptial in Dublin' City Centre
Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
Health support staff Stacey Moody from Tallaght during strike action at St James's Hosptial in Dublin' City Centre Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins

Áine Kenny, Callum Lavery and John Downing

Hospital staff across the country have been on strike from 8am today, Wednesday June 26.

The strike has affected 38 hospitals across the country. Staff who are striking include porters, chefs, healthcare assistants and theatre assistants.

The strike had previously been called off. However, talks between SIPTU, the trade union representing the hospitals staff, and healthcare bosses broke down earlier on in the week.

What services are affected?

The HSE had said they expected significant disruption to services.

"While every effort will be made to minimise impact on patients, industrial action involving these essential staff will have a significant impact on services," they said.

The HSE confirmed that the outcomes of the strike will be: deferral (delay and reschedule) of some elective inpatient procedures, significant cancellation of scope procedures, reduced outpatient services, reduced laboratory services for GPs, reduced catering services for both patients and staff and reduced operating theatre activity.

SIPTU had said staff would provide a limited amount of contingency cover, in an effort minimise the impact of the strike on patients.

The HSE also confirmed this, saying they were continuing to engage with SIPTU at local hospital and healthcare facility level.

Why are the strikes happening?

The strikes are happening over a pay dispute between hospital staff. SIPTU is demanding pay rises for their members that are worth over €19m in total. Individual pay increases are worth between €1,500 - €3,000 each.

The union say these rises are due under a job evaluation scheme. 

The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform have rejected SIPTU's demands.

A spokesperson said the Government made a "significant" offer to move staff onto an appropriate salary scale from November this year. But she would not comment how much it was worth.

The HSE said they regret that industrial action will affect patient and client services.

A spokesperson for Health Minister Simon Harris said he believes the dispute can be resolved through the talks process.

What are some of those striking saying?

*Johnny O’Mahony 54, Chef Grade 2, Rotunda Hospital

hospital one.JPG
Johnny O’Mahony 54, Chef Grade 2, Rotunda Hospital

"I’m here looking for a fair pay deal, there was a pay agreement arranged with the government and they have not delivered on their deal and as a chef and a union member and an employee of the Rotunda, I don’t feel that we are getting a fair deal.

Workers protest during the hospital support staff protest at The Mater Hospital.
Tony Gavin
Workers protest during the hospital support staff protest at The Mater Hospital. Tony Gavin

"This will have a big impact on me, it’s more money, but also going forward, it is better for me and for my colleagues as well.

"As a chef, we are not graded correctly, we are not seen as a craft grade. We are qualified chefs, but our grade isn’t recognised as a trade basically, or as a craft, and I think we should be specifically graded for that, that would be the main priority for the chefs striking today, and next week, if it goes ahead.

"We have concern that the patients will be looked after, that’s our priority, without patients we wouldn’t have a job. We have been negotiating with hospital management and all the arrangements in place today are in line with management. Hospital management came out to support us this morning and give us good wishes.

"We have no doubt that the patients will be looked after today. From a catering perspective, we have not changed our menu today. We are not just doing soup and sandwhiches. We have curtailed the staffing, the service will be easier but our patients are being fed today the same as if there were no strike.

"I can’t speak for other areas as such but from our side, our department is looking after our patients as if we were still in work."

*Christine Carr-Donohoe, 55, Ward Supervisor, Rotunda

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Christine Carr-Donohoe, 55, Ward Supervisor, Rotunda

"In the downturn, the government took a lot of money off, they never took on new staff, we were all upskilled and they had promised that we would be paid for the upskilling and based on the grade we were now on and then they didn’t. They owe us like 15.8 million and they offered us 1.8 million.

"We are out here for everyone, they want the same services, but we need the money, we want fair pay.

"In taxes alone, every two weeks I’d say I pay around €800, it’s a big chunk out of your money, I mean, I pay a mortgage, I travel from Drogheda everyday, petrol costs me like €100 for every two weeks. They took back around €400 a month in taxes and we are here for fair pay.

"I can’t remember the last time we had a family holiday, my money goes on my mortgage, the car loan, and then I can’t do any house improvements unless I take out a loan, but then I’m paying back the loan. I never have any money for me.

"I have kids that are all growing up and getting places and you can’t help them out, you can’t give them money.

"They are being well looked after, that was our first concern, we are patient services and it is about them too. No patients, no job. They are being well looked after, they had a good breakfast they are getting the same lunch, they are getting every service."

What should you do if you're affected?

According to the HSE, patients had been contacted by their local hospital or healthcare facility in the event that their scheduled procedure or service was affected by the dispute.

"We will keep the public informed of any developments that may affect patient services through the national and local media, our social media channels and our website, www.hse.ie," the HSE said.

Dáil reaction

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has been accused of insulting hospital support workers and treating them as “menials carrying out some menial role.”

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said she had visited the striking catering workers, nurses’ aides and porters, at three Dublin hospitals today.  She said the workers feel “betrayed” because the Government has broken its word to them about restoring pay cuts enforced during recession.

“Somehow your Government regards them as ‘menials,’ as menial staff carrying out some menial role,” Ms McDonald told the Taoiseach.

The Sinn Féin leader said it was clear from a job evaluation process dating from 2015 that these low-paid workers were entitled to pay increases. “You made precisely no effort, you made no plan to pay the staff what they are owed,” she added.

Ms McDonald said the treatment of hospital support staff contrasted with the increases paid to judges in the past months.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said he was well aware of the pressures and frustrations facing health support staff.  He knew this from years of working in the health service – “not from visiting the picket line for a photo op.”

Mr Varadkar said he was not surprised to hear Ms McDonald supporting the strikers. He said Sinn Féin supported every cause when it came into the news – and then moved to the next cause.

“The Government wants this strike  resolved – and this strike can be resolved,” the Taoiseach said. He again urged the union, SIPTU, to follow the Government’s example and take the matter to the Labour Court for binding arbitration.

What hospitals are affected?

Cork University Hospital

Cork University Maternity Hospital

Kerry University Hospital

Mallow General Hospital

South Infirmary Hospital Cork

South Tipperary General Hospital

Wexford General Hospital

St Lukes Hospital Carlow/Kilkenny

Mercy Hospital Cork

Connolly Hospital Blanchardstown

National Rehabilitation Hospital

Beaumont Hospital

St Ita’s Portrane

Mater Hospital

St James Hospital

St Vincent’s University Hospital

Tallaght Hospital

Our Lady’s Hospital Navan

Louth County Hospital

Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital Drogheda

Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital Crumlin

Rotunda Hospital

Central Mental Hospital

Midland Regional Hospital Mullingar

Midland Regional Hospital Tullamore

Midland Regional Hospital Portlaoise

Naas General Hospital

Cavan General Hospital

Letterkenny University Hospital

Sligo General Hospital

Roscommon Hospital

Portiuncula Hospital Ballinasloe

Galway University Hospital

Merlin Park

Mayo University Hospital

UL Hospital Dooradoyle

UL Maternity Hospital

UL Orthopaedic Hospital Croom

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?

Talks to avert three more 24-hour strikes by up to 10,000 hospital support workers next week are set to take place tomorrow.

But a Siptu spokesperson said the industrial action will not be deferred despite fresh negotiations at the Workplace Relations Commission.

The talks will begin at 10.30am.

READ MORE: Hospital staff strike: 'It's not the money' - porter

READ MORE: Government accused of abusing trust as hospital staff poised to go on strike

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