Strike ballot looms over HSE plan to cut jobs
THE country's largest union is set to ballot for strike action over a Health Service Executive (HSE) plan to cut hundreds of temporary contract jobs.
SIPTU said it was forced to ask members to vote on industrial action when the HSE refused to enter talks after announcing it had to take immediate action to slash costs in the western area.
The HSE plans to drastically reduce the number of contract staff after revealing it is facing "one of the most financially challenging times ever seen within Irish health services".
Unions said the HSE had outlined plans to them to make savings of more than €68m in the region.
Plans for the ballot were revealed as the HSE's outgoing chief executive warned that the health service could not absorb more cuts.
Professor Brendan Drumm, who steps down from his post next month, admitted that it may not be possible to deliver cuts in the order of €600m in the health service.
And he acknowledged that cuts of such magnitude could not be imposed "without affecting people at some level".
Speaking on RTE's 'This Week' programme, he also signalled that the cutbacks could mean that in the future smaller hospitals serving catchment populations of 300,000 to 400,000 people, may not operate on a 24-hour basis.
The HSE chief said that the health service had already made significant savings of €1bn that included 6,000 job cuts.
But he added: "We have to get away from a way of thinking that says that reducing the amount of money we get means that we reduce the services we provide."
SIPTU and IMPACT have asked the Labour Relations Commission to intervene to resolve the row over the cuts in temporary job contracts.
They accused the HSE of breaching the new Croke Park deal "before the ink had dried" on the pages of the pact, claiming it was imposing compulsory redundancies.
They said the move to axe temporary staff would mean up to 500 redundancies, with 300 jobs at risk in the mid-west and hundreds more in the west, including 183 jobs in Galway city alone.
It was feared that all of the 4,000 workers on temporary contracts across the health service faced the axe, but sources revealed the plan was not a national one.
However, the job losses in the west will be high on the agenda at a management team meeting tomorrow.
A directive sent to HSE managers in the west by its director of operations, John Hennessy, seen by the Irish Independent, instructs them to substantially reduce temporary staff.
In a statement, the HSE said it informed staff representatives in the mid-west it would be "examining" all temporary work contracts, but had not indicated yet how many staff would be affected.
Unions claim the temporary job cuts are compulsory redundancies, although health employers deny this on the basis that the contracts are only for a fixed term.
The Croke Park deal guarantees there will be no compulsory redundancies or cuts in public servants' pay or pensions before 2014.
In return, state employees must not take industrial action.