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Making vaccines mandatory would be a ‘regressive’ move, says trade union chief

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The general secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) has said she wouldn’t agree with making vaccinations mandatory for workers, describing it as a “regressive move.”

Patricia King criticised the Government and the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC) for their hesitancy on offering booster vaccines to frontline staff.

However, she would not agree with making jabs compulsory for those who refuse to get the vaccine.

UK health chiefs this week indicated that they will likely make vaccinations mandatory for NHS staff amid concern over rising cases.

Speaking to Independent.ie at the ICTU biennial conference in Belfast, Ms King said the trade union movement would not like to see a similar move here.

“People and what they have to declare to their employer about their health is settled in law and personally I would like to see us avoiding anything that would injure or damage that.

“It is important we keep encouraging, keep giving information and taking the doubts away from people as best we can. We are doing this in the trade union movement, our healthcare workers do it all of the time but I think the movement would not like to see something happen that would make vaccinations mandatory.”

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Ms King also condemned the recent anti-vaccine protest held outside the home of RTÉ Liveline presenter and National Union of Journalists (NUJ) member, Joe Duffy.

“I’ve never agreed with that type of demonstration,” she said.

“We use the streets all the time to do our protesting, but I think targeting people on a personal level... I don’t agree with it, these people have families. I know by saying that I might be putting myself out there as a target, but you should never infringe on people’s privacy.”

Ms King said it was “disappointing” to see hospital numbers rise above 500 and the number of patients in intensive care increase to over 100.

She urged the Government to continue using remote working as an instrument to help contain the virus.

“From our point of view, productivity isn’t affected at all so my line to the Government is to continue to allow people to work from home.

“This balance between economic necessity and health and safety, that’s a very thin line which has to be traversed. The virus is hell for some people who get it, some people get seriously ill, some people die. Until we get a cure or get ourselves so vaccinated we’ve no chance of getting it, we have to do everything we can to keep safe.”

Meanwhile, Karen McGowan, president of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO), said Covid-19 has had a “disastrous effect” on staffing levels.

More than 1,800 healthcare staff are currently out of work after contracting the virus

“I look forward to the day that I don’t get a WhatsApp message from colleagues begging staff to come in,” Ms McGowan said as she brought forward a motion calling for legislation on the need for safe staffing and skill mix to be implemented.

“Staff retention has never been more important than now. The delay in implementation of this policy is nothing short of sheer neglect of our staff and that of their patients. The delay in funding and roll out nationally since the evidence was presented to the government left Irish hospitals vulnerable from a staffing point of view as Covid-19 went on to decimate our already depleted rosters.”

Ms McGowan added the “neglectful action” was causing massive trauma to a workforce already wounded from the pandemic.

"The historical understaffing, moratoriums on recruitment – which we can never allow to happen again - have led to never ending pressures on existing staff to do more with less,” she said.

"We all deserve to work in a safe place and having the skilled nurse and midwife in the right place is an absolute necessity.”


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