Wednesday 18 September 2019

SIPTU accuses Government of 'cynical campaign' to deprive almost 10,000 healthcare workers of pay restoration

Siptu health division organiser Paul Bell. Photo: Damien Eagers
Siptu health division organiser Paul Bell. Photo: Damien Eagers

Ralph Riegel

Giant trade union SIPTU accused the Government of a cynical campaign to deprive almost 10,000 contract healthcare workers of long overdue pay restoration.

SIPTU health organiser Paul Bell demanded that the Government immediately increase a block healthcare support grant provided for specific care providers so that wage cuts imposed on low-paid healthcare contractors in 2010 can be reversed.

Workers had their pay cut by up to 8pc in the wake of Ireland's financial crisis - and, while other healthcare workers directly employed by Government and HSE facilities have since had pay restoration, so-called Section 39 workers have been repeatedly ignored.

The warning came as giant trade union SIPTU staged their biannual conference in Cork.

In a special presentation to conference, Mr Bell warned that the Government and Health Service Executive (HSE) have argued they are not directly involved in the employment of the Section 39 workers.

However, Mr Bell said that through official directions to the care providers who signed the Section 39 contracts - copies of which were obtained by the union - and by the 2010 decision to cut the block funding grant which triggered the wage cuts, the State is intrinsically involved in the issue.

"We will not stand idly by as a trade union and watch these workers be asked to provide first class healthcare services at third class wages," he said.

Some hospices, community hospitals and rehab facilities are now heavily dependent on Section 39 workers.

In the intellectual disabilities support sector alone, one in ten workers is employed on a Section 39 contract.

Staff undertake precisely the same work as directly employed HSE staff and must boast the same qualification levels.

However, they have seen their pay slashed in comparison to their staff colleagues.

Mr Bell said the pay situation is now so serious that hundreds of workers are quitting the sector entirely.

He warned that some care sectors could face a staffing crisis as a result.

One Section 39 worker, Liz Cloherty from Galway, said the situation was simply untenable.

"It is a disrespectful way to treat people - all we are asking for is fair treatment," she said.

"If we are doing the same work as others and must have the same qualifications, then why aren't we being paid the same."

Ms Cloherty said she has family members who quit working in the healthcare sector over the Section 39 wage issue.

Mr Bell warned that the treatment of almost 10,000 Section 39 contract workers in the intellectual disabilities, rehabilitation, hospice and special care sectors has been "absolutely disgraceful."

All industrial relations bodies including the Workplace Relations Commission have endorsed the workers position but both the Government and HSE has refused to act.

"The way these workers have been treated is disrespectful to say the very least," he declared.

The four day SIPTU conference agenda has been dominated by motions in relation to pay and working conditions amid warnings from numerous sections that the benefits of Ireland's economic recovery are not being shared equally.

SIPTU is the largest trade union in Ireland and boasts almost 175,000 members.

A key motion on the agenda today (Thursday) is the forthcoming referendum next year on whether to repeal the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution.

A motion on the issue will clarify the trade union's position on the referendum issue.

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