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Extra bank holiday not enough to reward frontline staff, Government warned

Chief negotiator for the health unions said members were at much greater risk from virus than other employees


Stock image. Photo: Stefan Rousseau/PA

Stock image. Photo: Stefan Rousseau/PA

Stock image. Photo: Stefan Rousseau/PA

An extra bank holiday will not be enough to reward more than 100,000 health workers for their contribution during the pandemic, the Government has been warned.

Chief negotiator for the health unions, Tony Fitzpatrick, said their members were at much greater risk from the virus than other employees.

He urged the HSE to return to talks to discuss special recognition for their efforts, which could include a once-off payment and extra leave.

It is understood that an option involving the extension of extra leave over two years is being considered by the ­Government.

“A bank holiday won’t be sufficient,” said Mr Fitzpatrick, who is chair of the staff panel of unions, which includes Fórsa, the INMO, IMO and Siptu.

“Ultimately they may want to do something for everybody and that’s fine.

“We’re saying healthcare workers went into the eye of the storm and other jurisdictions have done it, and they need to do the same.

“We need to get in a room for talks next week, and no dillydallying.”

He said once-off payments worth more than €500 were paid to health workers in Northern Ireland and €1,500 in France.

“The pandemic was pretty exceptional and the response was exceptional,” he said, adding that statements from Health Minister Stephen Donnelly and the Taoiseach “fanned the flames of expectation”.

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He said 32,000 healthcare workers were infected,
thousands contracted long Covid, and they worked without proper PPE at the beginning of the pandemic.

Public servants are already due a 1pc pay rise next Friday under the Building Momentum public sector pay deal.

Other increases worth up to 2pc under the agreement will be paid next year.

The unions’ claim was for “10 days for everyone” and estimated to cost €377m by the HSE, according to a Labour Court recommendation.

But Public Expenditure Minister Michael McGrath said this could soar to €1bn if applied across the public ­sector.

Mr Fitzpatrick said the claim for 10 days had been “conflated” with an earlier INMO claim, and unions were not “prescriptive” about the form the recognition should take.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar told RTÉ News at One yesterday the Government still had to “work out the details” of its reward structure, and this would be done in the coming weeks. He said some civil ­servants who were working from home and processing grants “did heroic and extraordinary things”.

Asked if he was equating people working on a computer screen at home to those who did 12-hour shifts in full PPE in hospitals, he said: “No, I’m not.

“I indicated the risks that people in the hospital sector took.

“But even within the health service, there are going to be differences.

“Some people were redeployed and some had their activity reduced. That’s why we need to work it out.”

The Irish Independent revealed yesterday that the Government is considering a new bank holiday and a 30c hike in the minimum wage as part of a package of Budget measures aimed at rewarding frontline workers.

Mr Varadkar suggested that other staff, including Revenue workers and other civil servants, also deserved recognition. However, a bank holiday would apply across the board to all workers. Union sources claimed this was under consideration before the pandemic as Ireland has fewer public holidays than many EU countries.

Few public servants are on the minimum wage so the increase would be most beneficial to those in sectors like retail that remained open ­during lockdown.

It is understood that the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform fears potential knock-on claims by other public servants, and the impact on workers in the wider economy.

A Fórsa spokesperson said it had not submitted claims on behalf of other staff.

In an update to members, Siptu said there had been “false starts” with management but welcomed a court recommendation to return to talks.

A Department of Public Expenditure and Reform spokesperson said it is not aware of any other formal claims at this stage.

The Garda Representative Association did not respond to a request for comment.

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