HEALTH authorities have made a dramatic U-turn on their decision to ban staff from availing of the public service early retirement scheme.
Six months ago, the Health Service Executive (HSE) told its employees they could not avail of the incentivised public service scheme because unions refused to agree to the redeployment of workers.
Staff redeployment is crucial to the HSE this year as the effects of the moratorium on recruitment have put certain services under severe pressure.
But in a complete reversal, the HSE has now asked the Department of Health to approve the lifting of the suspension on early retirement and allow it to proceed with applications.
The HSE continued to receive applications for early retirement up to October 23, and 188 of the 513 were approved, with another 22 deferred.
A spokesman for the HSE was last night unable to explain the reason behind the U-turn, which comes despite unions threatening industrial action next Monday.
The scheme offers the HSE the chance to shed some of its surplus workers in over-staffed areas, many of which are a legacy of the old health board system.
IMPACT and the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation said redeployment would be "off the table" when they began industrial action against the public sector pay cuts next Monday.
A key element of the campaign, coordinated by ICTU's Public Services Committee, is a blanket refusal to co-operate with redeployment or any part of the Government's plans to "transform" the public sector.
Health Minister Mary Harney disclosed the HSE's U-turn and said the matter was being brought to the attention of the Finance Department.
She said the HSE suspended all three incentivised schemes, including career breaks and a shorter working year, in June, but continued to accept applications.
"Because staff who avail of the scheme will not be replaced -- save in very exceptional cases -- employers were required to pay particular attention to the scope that exists within the organisation for re-organising and re-structuring work in order to minimise the impact on essential service delivery," she said.
"Staff co-operation and flexibility in that regard was essential. My department was informed that the health service trade unions issued a directive instructing their members not to co-operate with redeployment and re-assignment requests from management.
"This instruction from the unions, which remains in place, severely restricts the ability of management to organise re-structured work practice and contravenes the qualification criteria for the scheme."