Some 350 staff cut a path in the sunshine outside Wexford General Hospital on Wednesday as they joined those from 37 other hospitals nationwide in taking strike action. The 24 hour work stoppage got under way at 8 a.m. and involved healthcare support staff and SIPTU members who deliver essential services such as household, catering and portering.
All non-emergency appointments such as surgeries, inpatient procedures and outpatient appointments, were cancelled at the hospital as the action took place, but there seemed to be significant support for the striking workers as the honking of passing motorists echoed around the Newtown road.
While the atmosphere was jovial enough among the strikers, carrying their SIPTU flags and placards up and down in the sunshine outside the hospital, beneath the smiles the attitude among the group appeared to be that they were at their wits end and would not be backing down until they received what they feel they're entitled to.
The dispute arose between the staff and the HSE over what SIPTU says is a complete failure to implement increases in pay for workers after a job evaluation scheme previously deemed staff were underpaid. The workers, backed by SIPTU, believe the government has reneged on a deal to accept the findings of the job evaluation scheme and to restore pay rises and benefits that were done away with during the financial crisis.
'I'm involved in this disagreement going back to 2008,' said union rep Willie O'Reilly, stating how things had come to a head.
'The results of the job evaluation scheme are there to be seen and yet nothing has been done. It's always the front-line people who have to battle for anything.'
'We've had the job evaluation scheme, the pay rises were granted and now the "Minister for Austerity" won't grant it.'
On the morning of the strike action, Minister of Finance Paschal Donohoe urged a return to the Labour Court with a view to resolving the dispute and said that the government wanted to bring in increases on a phased basis with all staff due an increase next year.
'It's coming in on a phased basis anyway,' a disgruntled Mr O'Reilly said.
'The problem is that we don't know what basis that's going to be.'
'We won't go to the Labour Court until these things are ironed out, because a decision there would be binding. There are too many things hanging in the air.'
'It's always the same that front-line staff - soldiers, nurses etc - have to fight tooth and nail to get anything. Judges, for example recently got a pay-rise of €3,500 which was implemented within three months without a strike or anything.'
Mr O'Reilly confirmed that a contingency plan had been put in place within the hospital to deal with any emergencies and to provide care for those who required it, however, all non-emergency appointments had been cancelled as a result of the strike action.
'This has been in the pipeline for the last three years and really this is a last resort,' he said. On Friday it was revealed that all further strike action was to be deferred pending a Labour Court hearing tomorrow (Wednesday).