Saturday 17 August 2019

Patients hit as 10,000 hospital support staff mount pickets

Surgeries and other treatments cancelled as Siptu takes on its biggest employer

Stunned: Simon Harris said it was extraordinary Siptu had proceeded with a strike without going to the Labour Court. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Stunned: Simon Harris said it was extraordinary Siptu had proceeded with a strike without going to the Labour Court. Photo: Gerry Mooney

Anne-Marie Walsh and Eilish O'Regan

Thousands of waiting list patients in need of surgery and other procedures have had their treatments cancelled as up to 10,000 hospital support staff walk off the job today.

Patients at 38 hospitals and healthcare facilities including the Mater, the Rotunda, and St James's Hospital will be hit from 8am.

Chefs, laboratory aides, porters and healthcare assistants will mount pickets during a 24-hour strike.

There will be disruption to mental health services and many of the 4,500 day procedures normally scheduled on Wednesdays, including colonoscopies, will not go ahead.

Some of the worst affected are waiting list patients whose surgery was postponed for safety reasons.

Cork University Hospital and Our Lady's in Navan are among the hospitals affected.

Hospital managers said they made every effort yesterday to contact people whose appointments had to be put back because of the industrial action. But they advised people to turn up unless they heard otherwise.

The country's largest trade union Siptu will take on its biggest employer today in a dispute that could potentially cripple the health service.

Three strikes in a row loom next Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday while the union has threatened to ballot staff on strike action at another 20 hospitals.

Siptu has accused the Government of reneging on a commitment to give pay rises worth up to €3,000 each.

It is demanding that it pays the €19m increase following a job evaluation that found pay rises were justified because thousands of its members' roles had changed.

But there was no sign of a return to talks yesterday - despite ministers demanding that the dispute be referred to the Labour Court during a Cabinet meeting.

Last-ditch negotiations between Siptu and Government officials collapsed on Monday with the union claiming there was a massive gap between them.

It demanded that €16.2m due to staff except chefs is paid, but just €1.2m was put on the table.

But Government sources revealed this was only the first of three pay hikes that were discussed.

They said a total of around €7m was offered - including another €5m next year and a further increase in 2021, but the union wanted the full amount in November.

Department of Public Expenditure and Reform officials were angered at what was seen as a union rebuff to the "significant offer".

It was considered a major shift from their original position that nothing would be paid until 2021.

Sources said they offered to ask the Labour Court to intervene, but claimed Siptu said it would not show up.

Health Minister Simon Harris described Siptu's decision to proceed with an all-out strike without even going to the court as "absolutely extraordinary".

But Siptu objected to the fact that Government officials sought binding arbitration, which they would have to accept.

He also accused them of tabling matters that were not discussed at the Workplace Relations Commission.

Sources revealed that neither side had referred the dispute to the court by late last night.

This is despite the fact that collective agreements commit them to exhaustive industrial relations procedures.

Irish Independent

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